I Love Brodies (Tweeting and Privacy)

Yes, it’s Valentines Day, and I’d like to make a declaration of love. Love for Brodies!

This declaration isn’t just because I’m an embarrassing sycophantic crawler. No, it’s also to remind myself that going online and insulting my employer is rarely a good move.

In November last year Sarah Baskerville, a Department for Transport employee, posted on her Twitter account that a course leader was “mental”, and posted links to tweets attacking government “spin” and Whitehall waste.

The Daily Mail discovered the tweets and ran with a headline “Oh please, stop this twit from Tweeting, someone” and was critical of Baskerville because she worked as a civil servant at the Department of Transport and used Twitter to describe some aspects of her job and her feelings towards her work. The Independent on Sunday also carried a similar story.

You’d think that Baskerville would have tried to let the whole thing blow over, in the hope that her employer didn’t decide to investigate whether she was in breach of her contract of employment. Instead, and quite bizarrely, Baskerville complained to the Press Complaints Commission (“PCC”), arguing that she could have a “reasonable expectation” of privacy in the tweets published on the micro-blogging site, and that the reporting was misleading.

The Daily Mail and Independent on Sunday argued that the messages were public and could be read by anyone.

The PCC cleared the Daily Mail and the Independent on Sunday of breaching privacy by publishing the tweets, and my own reaction is that it’s difficult to see how the PCC could have reached any other decision. Baskerville was tweeting to over 700 followers, and Twitter’s own Terms of Service state: “The Content you submit, post, or display will be able to be viewed by other users of the Services and through third party services and websites (go to the account settings page to control who sees your Content.)”

On Friday Baskerville published her own version of events.  While I feel sorry that she has undergone stress, I get the feeling she still hasn’t quite grasped the point that the social media revolution has fundamentally changed what is meant by “private”.  Separating your personal and private life online is becomingly increasingly difficult.

If you publicly insult your employer you can expect repercussions.

Did I tell you how much I love Brodies?

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February 2011
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