Think before you Tweet

Added On: 18th April 2011

Think before you Tweet

Too many employers and employees still don’t fully appreciate the potential employment and business implications of social networks such as Twitter and Facebook.

Most employees have a moan about their employer at some point, but posting comments on social networks is not the same as whingeing to friends over a drink at the pub; the comment is permanent, can be seen by people who aren’t necessarily known personally to the ‘tweeter’ and once posted there is no control over how other people will use the material.

This was brought into sharp focus recently when the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) ruled that material that is published on Twitter should be considered public and can be published.

The decision followed a complaint by a Department of Transport official that the use of her tweets in articles by the Daily Mail and Independent on Sunday constituted an invasion of privacy. The messages included remarks about being hungover at work and criticism of the Government’s deficit reduction programme. The official argued that this information was private and was only meant to be seen by her 700 followers, however because her account was unrestricted her comments could be retweeted.

The PCC also agreed with the newspapers' argument that Twitter was publicly accessible and that the complainant had not taken steps to restrict access to her messages and was not publishing material anonymously. As a result, the commission ruled that the articles did not constitute a breach of privacy.

"This is an important ruling by the commission," said PCC director Stephen Abell. "As more and more people make use of such social media to publish material related to their lives, the commission is increasingly being asked to make judgements about what can legitimately be described as private information. In this case, the commission decided that republication of material by national newspapers, even though it was originally intended for a smaller audience, did not constitute a privacy intrusion."

Bearing all this in mind it is important that employers have a clearly communicated and understood social media policy. This should set out the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of all social media activity - whether this is in or outside work – and state explicitly that breaches of the policy will result in disciplinary action. Once introduced the policy must be applied consistently across the organisation.