Wick Communications

Shashank’s redemption

In Online media on November 8, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Can a tweet land you in jail? It’s an interesting question. Particularly in light of the unfortunate communications of Shashank Tripathi.

Tripathi took to Twitter as Sandy slammed the northeast in order to spread terrible untruths, such as that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo “is trapped in Manhattan. Has been taken to secure shelter.” Using his @comfortablysmug moniker, he also tweeted that the New York Stock Exchange was underwater. That little ditty was repeated on cable television.

He was made somewhat less comfortably smug when outed by an online news organization. He has since issued an apology and that’s that. Or is it?

The Wall Street Journal reported that there are rather vague laws governing such wrongheaded speech. Some think that it’s the digital equivilent of screaming “fire” in the crowded theater. The Supreme Court has ruled that such speech is dangerous and not protected by the First Amendment. There is also a New York law that makes it a crime to falsely report a crime or disaster. As WSJ writer Joe Palazzolo reports, that law hinges on the clause “under circumstances in which it is not unlikely that public alarm or inconvenience will result.”

Legal experts say that weird double negative could prove an escape route for anyone charged with illegal tweeting. They also worry that what’s good for the goose could be good for the newsgatherer. In other words, what if we jump the gun and give wrong information in the midst of an emergency? Could we be held liable?

This much is certain. Tweeting known falsehoods in a time of emergency will wreck your credibility. That should be enough to scare any purveyor of the news. Tripathi was the campaign manager for a congressional candidate. The operative word being “was.”

It’s easy to think of Twitter as a silly, inconsequential thing. That what you write in a 140-character burst isn’t worth the paper it’s not written on. But it’s more than that. It’s one of the ways we are communicating in the 21st century. Treat it with respect and you shouldn’t have any problems.

Clay

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