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To Tweet or Not to Tweet

by Chris Fielden on November 22, 2012

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As Lord McAlpine takes the tweeters who defamed his character and makes them culpable for their actions, the spotlight turns on libel laws and how it affects the everyday person and their Twitter account. What we want to discuss is how this also affects company Twitter accounts, exactly when shouldn’t you hit that retweet button, and when is it a really bad idea to write a tweet in the first place?

In case you’ve been so busy at work you’ve completely missed the news over the past week, Lord McAlpine’s name was linked with a BBC investigation in relation to allegations of child abuse. What followed was a public hanging via Twitter, outing the Conservative peer with a number of people tweeting and retweeting the allegations.

Lord McAlpine, quite understandably, is now on the warpath and threatening to sue all involved parties, advising people to settle out of court and suggesting – on his appearance on Channel 4 News a few days ago – that retweeters make a voluntary contribution to charity.

He quite rightly feels that people need to think before they blindly tweet or retweet information which could blacken somebody’s character, and points out that basic journalism libel laws apply to Twitter so people need to be aware of them.

What Is Libel?

Libel, which is the published defamation of someone’s character, is protected by a law which says we should not:

  • show a person hatred, humiliation, contempt, ridicule etc.
  • damage the person’s reputation (as in the case above)
  • damage the person’s occupation

Basically, libel is saying anything about someone which can be proven to be wrong. If you can’t prove what you are saying you probably shouldn’t say it… and you certainly don’t want to be saying it as a representative of your company!

What Should You Tweet?

So what should we be aware of when we are tweeting? As somebody representing a company, we have our company brand to consider, but we should also be considerate of anybody we tweet about.

Tweeting should be a part of your social engagement plan, so you want to be networking to your customers, potential customers as well as suppliers and peers. You want to build your brand and show that you are an expert in your field, but you don’t want to broadcast lots of links that people will just get tired of seeing.

“Social engagement isn’t about the quick boil, it’s about the slow simmer!”

Engage in conversations with your audience, and draw people in slowly. Social engagement isn’t about the quick boil, it’s about the slow simmer! Make friends, get chatting and most of all invest the time as it will pay off.

Visit our community engagement team at @StrategyIntMark and get chatting!

The outcome of the Lord McAlpine case is undecided, and this topic is not likely to go anywhere any time soon. Similar cases have appeared in recent months:

  • one man was sentenced to community service following an offensive tweet about British servicemen/women
  • Cricketer, Chris Cairns was awarded £90,000 after being accused of match fixing via Twitter
  • A councillor had to pay his rival £3,000 after making libellous comments on Twitter

The business world also has its fair share of faux pas as well:

  • This week British Airways are having a retweet nightmare which they are putting down to being ‘hacked’
  • Gap used Hurricane Sandy as an opportunity to promote their ecommerce platform with a tweet stating “All impacted by #Sandy, stay safe! We’ll be doing lots of Gap.com shopping today. How about you?”

What is clear is that people are realising that by being on Twitter they are still held to the same laws as they would be walking down the pavement.

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About the Author

Chris is Operations Director at Strategy Digital Towers and oversees many of our client’s creative projects. He has had humorous short stories published through various competitions and magazines both on and offline, hence some of his blog posts are of a fictional nature.

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