Check the link to the top ten legal ‘risks’ from using twitter in the UK. A cursory reading implies you can be sued (or charged by a public prosecutor) for tweeting defamatory, misrepresenting twits as well as forwarding any copyrighted or trademarked information. Breaking the law includes specifically and I quote the legalese: “where a tweet causes a person to be exposed to ‘…, ridicule, or contempt’ … or imputes a lack of professional skill or efficiency”. Hmm. This could capture most academic critique. And although I do not really foresee a premature death of social media, there are obvious implications for democracy, free speech and even the development of science in current attempts to legislate online communications. Only extreme autocracies legislate against thought crimes and we are luckily not there.
The case of two young British men that are in jail for ‘inciting others to riot’ although neither they nor anyone else responded to their facebook post and the case of a man who was only recently acquitted on appeal after twitting that if the snow closed the airport ‘he would blow-it up’ are instructive. No jokes allowed. Intent can be presumed even if a statement is impossible to carry through. And social media, in law, do not constitute private communication but are in the public domain. It is very easy to confuse the two for people that assume that their twitter or facebook friends are somehow similar to actual friends. In the past real friends could only be maintained by direct reciprocal comms. Now the line has been blurred and it has become easy to fall foul of rules as they are invented.
And will this renewed interest in ‘public’ defamation affect academic discourse? The jury is still out. But just in case, I think I should take a closer look at my hatchet jobs online 🙂