PCC are right – Twitter updates not ‘private’

In response to the PCC’s ruling that material published on Twitter is not ‘private’, Head of Research at social media agency RMM Dr. Dan O’Connor says:

This ruling does not come as a surprise. The Twitter account in question is completely open to the public. Sarah Baskerville seems not have opted for any of the available privacy settings: her account is open to anyone to read. It is difficult to claim a ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’ in those circumstances. She might have expected that no-one would report on what she published to the web, but there was really nothing reasonable about that expectation.

This idea of a ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’ on sites like Twitter or Facebook comes from a misconception equating social media with verbal conversation, when in fact the more accurate analogy is writing for publication. A lot of Twitter users will be sympathetic towards Ms Baskerville, because there is a tendency to think that posting to Twitter is like having a personal chat with friends. Any journalist printing comments from such a conversation would, of course, be guilty of a breach of privacy. But Twitter isn’t talking, it’s writing and publishing. Unless users opt for the full privacy settings, they are actively engaging in publication, and there can be no expectation of privacy there.

This misconception of social media is a pervasive problem for a lot of professional workers, particularly in sensitive sectors such as the civil service, healthcare and the law. What seems like a fun chat with friends is actually as public as a newspaper article. Increasingly, employers are adopting strict social media ‘codes of conduct’ or banning workers from using social media altogether. What’s needed is targeted professional education which focuses on enabling employees in these sectors to use social media wisely, without sacrificing the sociability that makes it such an effective form of communication.


Notes to editors

Dr Dan O’ Connor is head of research at RMM. He is also Faculty Research Scholar at the John Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, specialising in bioethics and healthcare policy.

For press enquiries, please contact:

Tina Hayward

Director, RMM

E: tina@rmmlondon.com

T: 0207 775 5602

Shona Ghosh

Shona is a member of RMM’s social media insights team, conducting research and data analysis to identify social media audiences, topics and trends for clients. She has been the main copywriter for clients including InterCasino and Mozilla, and is also responsible for producing RMM’s ‘technology briefings’ on the latest social technologies and trends.

Shona is currently conducting research into two sectors and their relationship with social media. The first is healthcare, and how brands should engage with online communities to provide medical information. Her second sector is hospitality, researching how restaurants and customers can benefit from location-based services.

Before joining RMM, Shona read English at Warwick University and graduated with an MA in Journalism from City University where she developed her interest in technology and media. She has worked for a number of media outlets, from helping run the student radio station to writing features and building maps for the Guardian.

When offline, Shona may be found behind a copy of New Scientist.

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