By Elisabeth Cooke
Created in 2006, Twitter is a free social networking and micro blogging site available to anyone with an Internet connect and an email address. It is based in San Francisco, USA, but is available in French, German, Italian, Japanese and Spanish. There are more than 100 million users worldwide.
‘Tweets’ are posted on the authors Twitter page and are available either to friends and followers or to anyone on the Internet, depending on individual privacy settings.
A ‘tweet’ consists of a maximum 140 characters, expressing all sorts of information and comments. You can follow President Obama (http://twitter.com/BarackObama), leading newspapers around the world, the World Health Organization (http://twitter.com/whonews) or Justin – a guy in the states who tweets all sorts of comments from his 74 year old father (http://twitter.com/shitmydadsays), which I am ashamed to say has become a personal favourite.
Twitter has quickly become a forum to disseminate information across the globe to a tremendously high number of users. Of course, this has opened the door to marketers and spammers the world over. Looking for a coupon or special deals for movie theatres? Be sure to check Twitter! Businesses have begun offering bargains to consumers who provide ‘special offer’ codes from twitter postings.
On April 14 2010, the Library of Congress in Washington DC recently tweeted, ‘Library to acquire ENTIRE Twitter archive – ALL public tweets, ever, since March 2006! Details to follow.’ While it is unclear what actual use the public tweets archive will fill, it demonstrates the level popularity of this social networking phenomenon.
With the ability to speak out and publish an opinion or comment so effortless comes the inevitable question: What happens when things go wrong?
Last year, Courtney Love became the first celebrity to be sued for defamation over comments she posted on her Twitter and MySpace accounts. Clothing designer Dawn Simorangkir (under the label Boudior Queen) filed a complaint in the Los Angeles Superior court suing for defamation, invasion of privacy and infliction of emotional distress. There are 10 allegedly defamatory tweets in question that were all written and posted within twenty-one minutes. The most popular sample of Love’s tweets is “oi vey don’t f— with my wardrobe or you will end up in a circle of corched eaeth hunted til your dead”. The case is currently pending.
The legal implications for Twitter users are currently coming to light. The United States has been working their way through defamation claims resulting from posts on twitter, but we have yet to see the implications of cross boarder ‘tweets’ bringing defamation claims. In the Gutnick case, the High Court found that an article printed in an online magazine in the United States that was downloaded in Australia constituted ‘publishing’ under the act. The court noted that was the cost of an American company doing business in Australia – they needed to be aware of Australian defamation laws.
But where does that leave tweeters? Twitter is not just about doing business – individuals, friends, newspapers, and celebrities use it. Celebrity ‘tweets’ are increasing in media attention. This social medium provides a unique forum that courts are only just beginning to approach. While we have yet to see the legal implications of ‘tweeting’, perhaps we can find out on twitter – the US Supreme Court tweets (http://twitter.com/USSupremeCourt). The High Court of Australia however does not.
Elisabeth Cooke is a JD candidate at the University of Melbourne