What David says you can and cannot say on Twitter, Facebook and blogs

The rather splendid Canton Social Media Surgery people dangled a wonderful nugget of enticement to local social media wannabes for their November gathering at Chapter Arts Centre… a talk from local barrister, David Hughes, entitled What you can and cannot say on Twitter, Facebook and blogs.  Likely along with many, the Twitter joke trial had me wondering whether I should be more careful about my occasional forays into online silliness.  And this week’s (apparently extremely lenient) fining of nine people who revealed on Twitter and Facebook the identity of a woman raped by footballer Ched Evans served as a lesson, to any who weren’t clear, that social media is not a private conversation among friends.

The observant amongst you will notice this is NOT a barrister’s wig

So off I tootled to listen.  And fascinating stuff it was, too.

What follows is my representation of what I consider I heard David Hughes say.  I wouldn’t like to state he said any of this, mind.  See, I’m now rather concerned that I may misrepresent David Hughes on this here blog and he’ll come after me with his barrister-y wig…

David identified four legislative areas where social media users could trip up, namely defamation, privacy, contempt and criminal law.

Defamation

@L_OS_Cymru's Defamatory Tweet

Goodness. How rude! But is it defamatory?

See this tweet (to the left) from today…?  This tweet could well be defamatory. Unless @L_OS_Cymru can show his expressed opinion to be substantially true.  And you lot had best not go repeating what he said.  Just because you’re saying what @L_OS_Cymru has already said, doesn’t mean you’re not in trouble too.  Unless you can prove what you said wasn’t serious, was in the public interest, you knew your source for this information was reliable or you’d sought comment from me about my ducts and had also tweeted that information.  Or, if you wanted to get all Private Eye, you could tweet that you’d heard unsubstantiated reports about my ducts…

David covered a whole lot of information about defamation.  I’ve barely skimmed the surface of what he said, and appreciate he hardly touched on what he could’ve said about the subject.  The picture I felt David painted was a complex maelstrom of potential pitfalls for the unthinking tweeter.  But he did pass on one extremely handy tip… Always state true facts upon which your opinion is based.  This can be deemed to be honest comment (a legal term, that is) and is sort of ok-ish-maybe-unless-you’re-rude-about-someone-angry-and-very-very-powerful.  State your opinion, link to a published news article wherein the facts upon which your opinion is based appear and Bob’s your uncle.  Unless the article states that Bob isn’t.

Privacy

Legislation in respect to privacy seemed a heck of a lot easier to understand than defamation.  David laid out the basics for us with, “You can say what the hell you like about Gary Glitter”.  You know, unless he winds up in court.  Then, careful now.

For everyone else think:

  • Would a reasonable person expect you to keep private what you know about them?
  • Is there real justification for publishing that information (via social media)?

So, if anyone (@benelwell) knows anything more about my ducts, shush.

Contempt

David said read this.

Criminal liability

If you’re offensive, indecent, obscene or menacing online, you’re still subject to criminal law.  That’s straight forward enough and, frankly, I think we should all be clear about it by now, following a number of recent high profile cases.

David noted indecency is subject to a more fluid interpretation than obscenity.  A photograph of an aborted foetus posted online by someone making a pro-life statement could, for example, be considered indecent, and, therefore, potentially subject to criminal prosecution.  But you’re all lovely, lovely people and you won’t be getting all menacing or indecent, so you’ve nothing to worry about.  But if you do fancy mock-threatening your local airport, David remarked, “That case is a reflection of modern culture, because no-one thought he meant it seriously”.  See how careful David avoided expressing any real opinion about it though?  Eh?  Canny, that.

So there you have it.  But let’s be clear.  The above in no way constitutes legal advice.  Or opinion.  Or anything much of anything.  Dash it all, I should’ve shown you a picture of a cat instead of writing this.  I think it’s ok to do that online.

Oh, and David said that because this blog post invites you to comment, I’m responsible for what you say on here, so have to moderate your comments carefully.  Consider yourself warned, @L_OS_Cymru.

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No tweets for Lent

Twitter’s great.  I said as much in this Prezi, so let’s not bother with the specifics of why right now, eh?  Except to mention how I’ve met some truly excellent people because of Twitter, and my life would be far less rich without them.  Sniff.

Tai chi

These were my people. For three years.

But me and Twitter, we’d had our three year anniversary.  And I’ve empirical evidence that three years is as long as I usually love anything.  ANYTHING.  Pottery class, three years. Tai chi, three years. Jiu jitsu, three years.  Choir, three years.  Egyptian Arabic lessons, three years.  Husband, three years.

You get the picture.

Me and Twitter, we were doomed.  We needed a break from each other.  Enter Lent and a perfect opportunity to fast from the daily thoughts of 340 people.  Well, mostly.  Some of them I knew I’d still see during Lent and many of them are Facebook friends, but you get the picture.

Gone for Lent

I went for Lent.

And I should get to the point.

What did I my Twitter-less Lent teach me?  Did I learn I was truly addicted and spend the entire six weeks mumbling incoherent sentences of precisely 140 characters?  Or did I forget all about it and joyfully gambol, lamb-like, through fields of daffodils instead?

The withdrawal

I was twitchy for the first week, constantly fiddling with my phone.  And it was a full month before I stopped conjuring pithy remarks in my mind every time something amusingly mundane happened.  More alarming was how others reacted.  A handful of people not on Twitter almost reeled in shock at my announcement.  Evidently for them, Twitter partly defines me, which couldn’t have brought home more emphatically how it was time to cut back on my online interaction.  Of those on Twitter, some expressed, throughout Lent, that they regretted my departure, which was nothing other than touching.  Yep.  These were the people who, if I’d’ve died during Lent, would’ve come to my funeral.  Or would, at least, have tweeted about how they wish they could’ve come to my funeral.  Or maybe thought about tweeting about how they wish they could’ve come to my funeral and then just TwitPic’ed a photo of a nice flower* instead.

The benefits

Oh dear goodness, I had SO much more time.  Some of which I used to sleep.  Bloody Twitter had stolen my sleep.  Bloody Twitter had also stolen most of the space in my brain.  My brain had been full of nonsense about vague acquaintances, when it should’ve been partly full with my family’s news.  And partly empty.  Boy, was my head quieter.  Less spin-y. Less crazy, I-can’t-breathe, overwhelming, what-am-I-doing-next-today, look-at-this-cute-picture-of-a-cat, iPad3-is-out-let’s-all-buy-it-now.  Which meant I could concentrate better…  I properly listened when people talked… and the previously baffling plotlines of Lewis re-runs suddenly made sense, because I was there, in the moment, not distracted by 340 people.  Plus I relaxed more because hundreds of (admittedly lovely) lbrarians weren’t chatting about work in my living room after 6pm.

The downsides

I missed the camaraderie of Twitter.  I quickly remembered that, though I have plenty of hobbies and non-Twitter-friends and make efforts to go out, pre-Twitter I spent a lot of time alone with my thoughts.  And there were moments that would’ve felt so much more poignant had I shouted about them to 1,320 or so people.  Such as Wales winning the rugby Grand Slam, or TEDxCardiff 2012 or a rather curious police incident outside my house one Friday evening.

But I’m fairly resilient, and mostly coped without the banter and the broadcast.

John Donne

This is John Donne. He wasn't an island either.

More difficult was the anxiety I felt over losing touch, both personally and professionally.  I felt I’d chosen to not go to a fabulous party and had spent the entire evening thinking about what was happening at the fabulous party.  Or I’d skipped a meeting and all the big decisions about stuff that I cared about were being made at that meeting.

I’m a woman, not an island, see?

The outcome

So, it’s Easter and I’m back to using Twitter. Because there were people I truly missed.  And because it would be professionally foolhardy to stay away.  My forthcoming week illustrates this perfectly… I’m off to Glasgow for the LILAC conference, a librarian shindig to do with teaching and that, where I’ll get some excellent librarian-chum hugs and read tweets about newfangled pedagogical theories from the sessions I can’t attend.

But my six tweet-free weeks have taught me I need to modify how I use it.  More looking at the world instead of my phone.  No more post-midnight tweeting.  No more Twitter in lieu of finding something more constructive to do.  More Tweetdeck columns to organise those I follow and, hopefully, reduce some of the noise.  And maybe some unfollows.  But, er, not YOU obviously.

To those who sent me lovely (and professionally advantageous) messages during Lent, I thank you for thrusting temptation in my way.  I wobbled occasionally, reading some tweets, favouriting a handful and sending three direct messages, but I did no public tweeting.  I ate obscene amounts of chocolate instead.  Though didn’t joyfully gambol amidst daffodils.  No, not even once.

* those who know me will realise I’d prefer a photo of a potato or some bubblewrap

Why blog?: an activity for the Connected Researcher workshop 23 February 2012

The RIN report  "Social media: a guide for researchers"

The RIN report "Social media: a guide for researchers"

The Research Information Network’s Social Media: a guide for researchers states, “almost all the researchers interviewed for this project maintain a blog of some kind”.  These researchers, with demanding schedules and the pressures that academic life bring, wouldn’t be blogging aimlessly.  So what would motivate them to make time to publish their thoughts online?

Spend a few moments thinking about what potential you see for blogging.  Would blogging offer you an opportunity to reflect, to diarise?  Somewhere to collate material you find online?  A chance to share your ideas?  Would you see blogging as a great networking or learning opportunity?  Share your thoughts informally in a comment below and we’ll discuss them together.  Rather than posting one long, considered comment, you may chose to post a number of short comments, so others may respond and you may engage in an online conversation.