Twitter A Bigger Risk For Sacking Than Suing

Twitter is a public medium, and that makes some people nervous that what they say could result in them being sued for defamation. But while that's not an impossible scenario, the most likely damaging consequence from an ill-considered Tweet is that you might lose your job.

In a presentation at the Melbourne WordCamp event over the weekend, lawyer Alex Farrar pointed out that there aren't any specific laws in Australia pertaining to communicating on Twitter. "There is no law specific to Twitter. What we look at is the way the existing law is trying to adapt to apply to Twitter. The law lags behind — well behind — the sorts of problems and disputes we see in real life."

Farrar noted that Australia is, in relative terms, a fairly easy county to bring a defamation action: there's no freedom of speech defence and defamation is broadly defined as any comment which might lower the reputation of its subject. In practice, however, you're much more likely to get fired for an inappropriate tweet than to be sued for saying something unpleasant.

"The real risk of using social media is the risk of your relationship with your employer," Farrar said. "A lot of the advice I'm giving to people about their use of blogs and twitter is that we're not looking at changes in the law, we're looking at changes in behaviour and as a result changes in risk. You can't be bolder in social media because the same [legal]rules apply."

Many workplaces now have a specific social media policy which either prohibits the use of Twitter to discuss job-related issues. Staff who ignore that policy may end being shown the door, but even if there isn't a policy in place, an indiscreet comment might result in your boss asking you to leave.

That scenario might be common, but so far there haven't been many repercussions. "Twitter users who are getting into trouble for their postings tend to be young individuals who don't have the resources to take it to court," Farrar pointed out. Twitter is useful, but so is being employed, so a little discretion can be wise.


Comments

    So does Farrar have any actual data about the number of people who have lost their jobs due to twitter posts, or trend data that supports his position? Or is he just trying to make a name for himself spouting scaremongering crap about new media in order to give the appearance of a grasp of the subject.

    "No laws specific to twitter"

    No kidding, who'd have thunk it.

      Alex Farrar is a working lawyer - the comment was based on her experience advising clients.

    "no freedom of speech defence" - thusly, legally binding freedom of speech does not exist in this country.

    I LOL'd then I raged. HARD.

    Oh well, Im not the ignorant one being shot at, mortared and dying for nothing :D Nice job defence force, what are you fighting for?

      Freedom of speech is implied in AUS. We are free to do most anything unless GovCo make a law otherwise. They are in turn tied, in part, to Coonstitution, and Australia's inherited rights under mangna carta, the 1688 Bill of Rights, common law, tort. But of course, in the last few decades, "law reform" as sought to eliminate the items by way of simply not mentioning them, to ridiculing them. Best to say stuff online that you'd say to a person face to face:-)

    Hi there

    Thanks for this reflection on my presentation.

    Grant, to answer your question, in the presentation I made it clear that all we have at the moment with Twitter is a series of interesting anecdotes which give us an indication of the way the law is developing. What we're seeing is cases about termination of employment as a result of Tweets. The fact that it's happening indicates that it's not *that* obvious to some Twitter users.

    Simon C, we do have an implied freedom of political communication in Australia, which is like a lesser "freedom of speech", and does influence our defamation law somewhat. In the US, they prioritise freedom of speech over individuals' reputations if a matter is of public concern. In Australia we are quite focussed on the preservation of reputation.

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