Monday, February 14, 2011

Everything You Tweet Will Be Taken Down In Evidence And Used Against You

One of my students recently asked me about the rules regarding quoting somebody's Tweet. (For those of you who don't know, a tweet is a message of up to 140 characters that can be posted on the Twitter website, for that person's followers to see.)

Ironically, a couple of days later, on 8th February 2011, the UK's Press Complaints Commission ruled that Twitter messages were not private, and therefore quoting them was not an invasion of someone's privacy. To read the ruling and background behind the case, click here.

They decided that although someone's tweets were distributed to only the people who were following them, any of those followers could distribute the tweet to any of their own followers, and therefore the 'tweeter' had no control over who could and could not view the text.

From a writer's perspective, it's useful to have a clarification like this, because any quote can add authority and credence to an article you may be writing.

However, I would still urge a word of caution when quoting a tweet. If you do want to quote a tweet, then you should (as with ANY quote) attribute it to its source. For Twitter, this means attributing the tweet to the name of the twitter account, (which begins with the @symbol) and not the Tweeter's Profile name. Search for one of Twitter's most famous and prolific tweeters, Stephen Fry, and you'll see around 20 profiles. Now some are clearly not Stephen Fry, but others aren't as clear cut. In other words, a Twitter account may not actually represent who they claim to represent. (Twitter strongly encourages 'spoof' or 'fake' accounts to make it clear that they are not the real thing, but that doesn't guarantee anything!) Therefore, by attributing the quote to the Twitter account, rather than the name of the person the account purportedly represents, should prevent you from getting into any trouble!

As an aside, if anyone reading this post isn't on Twitter, then I would encourage you to consider it. There is a huge number of writers on Twitter, sharing a lot of ideas and offering support. It doesn't matter whether you write non-fiction, or fiction, you'll find many like-minded people and well-known writers there.

And to get you started here are some Twitter accounts worth following:

@simonwhaley (that's me, of course!)
@WritersMistakes (Alex Gazzola - whose blog is Mistakes Writers Make (And How To Avoid Them and fellow WB tutor)
@PennyLegg (fellow WB tutor)
@lomace (fellow WB tutor)
@writersbureau (the official account for The Writers Bureau)

@FMNews (Freelance Market News)

I follow fellow writers, publishers, magazines and published novelists.

To sign up to Twitter, visit

Before you do, there's some excellent guidance about how writers can use Twitter at Nicola Morgan's brilliant blog, Help! I Need A Publisher and I would encourage any newbie to Twitter to read these postings.

Good luck!