Posts on the social media platform Twitter are not private and newspapers are free to publish them, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has ruled.
The judgement came after Sarah Baskerville, a civil servant with the Department of Transport, posted tweets criticising government cuts and suggesting she was hungover at work. The tweets were picked up and published by the Daily Mail and the Independent on Sunday in November 2010.
In an article entitled 'The hounding of Baskerville', the Independent claimed Ms Baskerville was breaking the civil service's code of neutrality. They said she tweeted "How much more can we take from this Govt" over plans for McDonald's and PepsiCo to help write health policy, and asserted that "Nick Clegg sold out faster than Muse".
Ms Baskerville complained to the PCC, but the watchdog ruled yesterday (8 February) that the microblogging site is public, so tweets can be published by newspapers without breaching privacy guidelines.
Stephen Abell, director of the PCC, said the commission was increasingly being asked to make judgments about the publication of material from social networking sites.
The ruling has split opinion amongst media commentators. Roy Greenslade described Baskerville as a "twit", but Patrick Butler called her a "highly motivated" employee offering "thoughtful and insightful reflections on a civil service on the threshold of major change."
The case highlights legitimate dangers in using social media to talk about your work.
All employees have a general duty of fidelity to their employer, and many employees are asked to sign IT acceptable use policies. Breaking these can lead to dismissal. Any employee publishing commercially sensitive material, such as pricing or customer lists, could also be sued for breach of confidentiality.
Twitter messages not private rules press watchdog (Telegraph)
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