With followers comes responsibility

It was an interesting moment today (Thursday 21 February) when I noticed the Sky News ticker saying that Lord McAlpine had dropped his legal action against people who had defamed him on Twitter. Well it was dropped for anyone who had fewer than 500 followers. An interesting approach – to focus on the network of followers that people had and I suppose the logic was that the fewer the followers the less likely that the comments would have been circulated wider.

When people join social networks and start to discuss life, events and make comments on the world around them it is a mundane decision. They hopefully will have considered what they want to achieve and how they want to get involved with social networks. I assume they will also be aware of any possible impact on their employer or other relevant groups. But using social networks is just a form of conversation. However, when it starts to grow and the network expands it can have a much more significant impact on that person’s life.

With followers comes a greater responsibility for what you say. You say it to them and they say it to someone else and it grows. All very positive when you have got something useful, interesting or entertaining to say. But with it there are legal implications that few people have really got to grips with yet. I have been lucky enough to have heard Steve Kuncewicz talk about the legal issues for using social media and it is an important area for people to consider. Contempt of court, defamation, copyright the list goes on and all are still relevant to comments on social networks. I would recommend following Steve on Twitter or check out where he may be speaking as his insight is valuable.

Providing staff with guidance about using social media personally is really critically. It is even more important to give legal training on the use of social media to anyone who is going to tweet or post on behalf of your organisation. The Greater Manchester Police Twitter feed (@gmpolice) has more than 120,000 followers and the main local account for Manchester City Centre (@gmpcitycentre) has more than 8,000. Every day information, feedback and conversations are posted onto the feeds and with each one there is a responsibility to have considered any legal implications. It can be quite a scary thought for staff which is why they need to be given as much support as possible.

Social networks have brought a number of benefits to communication between groups, individuals and organisations so we should not just shut up shop. Instead, we need to have our eyes open to what using social media means and what the implications are. So, for anyone who has more than 500 followers perhaps you need to consider the comment you are making before you tweet.

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