Employees will have to be told to tweet with extra caution after the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) issued a ruling stating that material published on Twitter is not protected by privacy laws.
The ruling comes as Sarah Baskerville, a Department of Transport worker, posted a number of messages about work, which were later published by the Daily Mail and Independent on Sunday.
Among the tweets published were one that accused a tutor of being "mental" and "shouty", while another post suggested a hangover at work: "Struggling with a red wine induced headache @Department for Transport".
Baskerville complained to the PCC, claiming the information was private and that she had a "reasonable expectation" that her messages would be published only to her 700 or so followers. The public servant also pointed to the disclaimer, which stated that all views expressed there were personal, and not representative of her employer.
Both newspapers defended their right to publish the tweets, pointing out that Baskerville's Twitter account was not private and that posts could be read by anyone, not just those individuals who actively chose to follow her.
The defence also argued that it was reasonable for newspapers to give a view on whether it was acceptable for the complainant to have talked about such things as being hangover at work and to consider what this said about her judgment.
One of the key factors considered in reaching the ruling was the potential audience for the information was actually much larger than the 700 people who followed Baskervilee directly. This is because any message can easily be re-tweeted to a wider audience, the PCC noted.
The ruling provides a stern warning for those who use Twitter to vent frustrations about work and how this information could be used against them.
The case follows that of Paul Chambers, who was fined £1,000 and given a criminal record after being found guilty of posting a "menacing" message on Twitter threatening to blow up an airport.
Chambers posted a message on 6 January 2010 which said: "Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You've got a week... otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!"
If they don't already, IT managers will need to think about Twitter next time they revise their acceptable internet use policies, especially if they work in sectors likely to receive high public scrutiny such as government.
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