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Twitter: A policy primer

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TWITTER: A POLICY PRIMER
NET303 Assignment 2a

Disclaimer
The Twitter Terms of Service, Privacy Policy and Rules are around 7,000 words in total, and link to further explanatory documents. This brief overview cannot and does not attempt to address all the issues raised by these documents.
It is not legal advice and should not be taken as such advice.

Your agreement with Twitter
• You agreed to the Terms of Service (TOS) when you signed up. Agreement is automatic (Meeder, Tam, Kelley & Cranor, 2010, p. 2).
• The TOS are only part of your agreement with Twitter. They also refer to separate documents (Twitter, 2012, section 12C) covering:
o Twitter’s privacy policy (Twitter, 2012, section 2)
o Usage rules (Twitter, 2012, section 5)
o As well as a number of other documents (such as rules for developers).
The TOS are fairly lenient towards users. The fact that what you post is immediately available and viewable worldwide by anyone is clearly signposted (Twitter, 2012, section 1). You also keep rights to the content you post (Twitter, 2012, section 5) but note the clarification below.

Problematic Areas
• You agree to the TOS simply by using Twitter, whether you read them or not (Twitter, 2012, para 1).
• You agreed to Twitter using your data (and metadata such as logins, IP addresses, links clicked and so on) in any way it wants to (Twitter, 2012, section 1).
• Anything you post, though, still remains solely your responsibility (Twitter, 2012, section 4).
• You keep the rights to your content but still grant Twitter “a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed)” (Twitter, 2012, section 5). You, however, remain liable for any such use by Twitter (and related third parties).
• While Twitter can do whatever they want with your content, you may not infringe on their copyright, trade marks, etc (Twitter, 2012, section 7).
• The agreement is subject to the laws of California, USA (Twitter, 2012, section 12B). Any legal action will be brought in that state only. How familiar are you with US and California law?

Why does this matter?
• Your data is there forever, and easily searchable (Lessig, 1998, p. 10).
• Linking separate pieces of information might identify you (Barbaro & Zeller, 2006) or reveal information you want kept private (Jernigan & Mistree, 2009).
• Each piece of information may be small, but the aggregate may be revealing (Humphreys, Gill & Krishamurthy, 2010, p. 11).
• Your details can be revealed through legal means:
o Requests for user information are increasing rapidly (Shih, 2013).
o Over half of data requests to Twitter are at least partially successful (Twitter, 2013a).

What about the privacy policy?
You consent to being tracked via cookies, including on related third party websites, as well as allowing Twitter to store copious ‘log data’ including metadata about how and when and what you access.

Conclusion
At a very basic (but often unstated) level, social media are constrained by
• The underlying code (what it allows, what it doesn’t).
• The terms and conditions imposed by companies, governments and other authorities (what is permitted, what isn’t) (Youmans & York, 2012, p. 316).
Twitter differs from other social media since the default is to make everything as public as possible (Powell, 2011, p. 166). Being on Twitter is like living your life in a glass house (Semitsu, 2011, p. 378).
Knowledge is power.
• Think before you tweet.
• Understand what Twitter is doing with your tweets and the information it collects (and distributes) about you.
• What might be the consequences of your tweet? To you? To others? In the future?
• Twitter retains much of the power in your agreement, while you retain most of the liability.

References
Barbaro, M., & Zeller, Jr, T. (2006, August 9). A face is exposed for AOL searcher No. 4417749. The New York Times. New York. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/09/technology/09aol.html?_r=1&ei…epag&adxnnlx=1155326605-/1FEV853bC3qmtoZgsF3hw&pagewanted=print
Humphreys, L., Gill, P., & Krishnamurthy, B. (2010). How much is too much? Privacy issues on Twitter (pp. 1–29). Presented at the Conference of International Communication Association, Singapore. Retrieved from http://www.research.att.com/~bala/papers/ica10.pdf
Jernigan, C., & Mistree, B. (2009). Gaydar: Facebook friendships expose sexual orientation. First Monday, 14(10). Retrieved from http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2611/2302
Lessig, L. (1998). The architecture of privacy. Presented at the Taiwan Net ’98, Taipei. Retrieved from http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/works/lessig/architecture_priv.pdf
Meeder, B., Tam, J., Kelley, G., & Cranor, L. (2010). RT @IWantPrivacy: Widespread violation of privacy settings in the Twitter social network (pp. 1–12). Presented at the Web 2.0 Privacy and Security Workshop, IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy, California. Retrieved from http://w2spconf.com/2010/papers/p28.pdf
mkhmarketing. (2008). Multiple tweets plain [image]. Flickr. Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/mkhmarketing/8477893426/
Mrgan, N. (2008). Twitter cookies [image]. Flickr. Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/neven/2705240882/
Powell, C. (2011). “You already have zero privacy. Get over it!” Would Warren and Brandeis argue for privacy for social networking?,. Pace Law Review, 31(1), 146–181.
Semitsu, J. (2011). From Facebook to mug shot: How the dearth of social networking privacy rights revolutionized online government surveillance. Pace Law Review, 31(1), 291–381.
Shih, G. (2013). Government requests for Twitter users’ data on the rise. Reuters. Retrieved from http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/08/01/us-twitter-data-idUSBRE97002M20130801
Twitter. (2012). Terms of service. Twitter. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/tos
Twitter. (2013a). Information requests. Retrieved from https://transparency.twitter.com/information-requests/2013/jan-jun
Twitter. (2013b). Twitter logo [image]. Twitter. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/logo
Twitter. (2013c). Twitter privacy policy. Twitter. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/privacy
Twitter Help Center. (2013). The Twitter rules. Twitter. Retrieved from https://support.twitter.com/articles/18311-the-twitter-rules#
Wyant, A.-M. (2012). Loose tweets sink fleets [image]. 920th Rescue Wing. Retrieved from http://www.920rqw.afrc.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123317247
Youmans, W., & York, J. (2012). Social media and the activist toolkit: User agreements, corporate interests, and the information infrastructure of modern social movements. Journal of Communication, 62, 315–329. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.2012.01636.x

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2 thoughts on “Twitter: A policy primer

  1. I enjoyed your policy primer on Twitter, it was an interesting presentation. Firstly, good point including your own disclaimer, every primer should have one for future reference. What is obvious when you look at Twitter’s and other policy primers, there is substantial documentation people are expected to agree to such as the terms of service, privacy policy, usage rules and rules for developers, with no option for negotiation at all. A virtual signing of your life away, if a person chooses to do so. I agree with Jennifer too that Twitter and CourseEra policies are “very similar and one-sided” (J. Jones, personal communication, October 22, 2013). This is the same for Google. All our personal data is made available to use however they like. I agree with your point on how “each piece of information maybe small, but the aggregate may be revealing (Humphreys, Gill & Krishamurthy, 2010, p. 11). Just as Barabaro and Zeller (2006) states “our privacy is not protected and the anonymised information gathered leads directly to your door.”

    But what if Twitter, CourseEra or Google use our data irresponsibly? People have to go to California to sue. Even then it is a big risk, since we agreed to their contract of being liable and responsible for our content. According to Fitzsimmons (2013, para. 1) “Lawyers are confused about how they should use social media tools, while law firms are exposing themselves to risk because they lack social medial strategies and don’t adequately train their staff.” This also applies to businesses and individuals. For example, the Twitter defamation case where “Melbourne man Joshua Meggitt sued Twitter” (Fitzsimmons, 2013, para. 9). Meggitt is suing Twitter for “re-tweets and subsequent comments by other Twitter users” (Fitzsimmons, 2013, para. 9). Marieke Hardy named and shamed Meggitt as a hate blogger on Twitter to 60,000 of her followers. However, it was untrue. Meggitt didn’t even have a Twitter account. Meggitt sued Hardy and won. Meggitts’ Lawyer’s dispute “Twitters terms of use clearly state that users must take full responsibility for the content they tweet,” arguing Twitter is a secondary publisher (SLMEDIA, 2012). I am curious to know the outcome of this particular case.

    Defamation is a common consequence to anyone that uses Twitter and they need to be aware of this, to avoid breaching contracts and ending up in some form of legal dilemma. As your image states “loose tweets sink fleets” and this may even apply to Twitter itself as a secondary publisher (Wyant, 2012). Do you think it is right for Twitter to have rights to your content to use however they like, without asking for your consent first, or are you happy to agree to Twitter’s terms? I like your cookie image too.

    References
    Barbaro, M., & Zeller, T. (2006, August 9th). A Face Is Exposed for AOL Searcher No. 4417749. New York Times. Retrieved September 14, 2013, from http://w2.eff.org/Privacy/AOL/exhibit_d.pdf
    Fitzsimmons, C. (January 13, 2013). The social media minefield. Financial Review. Retrieved October 27, 2013, from
    http://www.afr.com/p/sections/fyi/the_social_media_minefield_TAvFrhmazzwUAArLCCKWwM
    Humphreys, L., Gill, P., & Krishnamurthy, B. (2010). How much is too much? Privacy issues on Twitter (pp. 1–29). Presented at the Conference of International Communication Association, Singapore. Retrieved from http://www.research.att.com/~bala/papers/ica10.pdf
    Mapson, R. (2013). Twitter A Policy Primer. [Presentation]. Curtin University. Retrieved October 27, 2013, from https://disrecognizedspace.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/policyprimer_twitter.pdf

    SLMEDIA. (February 20, 2012). Australian Joshua Meggitt Sues Twitter.
    Socialite Media. Retrieved October 27, 2013, from http://socialitemedia.com.au/australian-joshua-meggitt-sues-twitter/824/

    Wyant, A.-M. (2012). Loose tweets sink fleets [image]. 920th Rescue Wing. Retrieved from http://www.920rqw.afrc.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123317247

  2. The Meggitt case is interesting. Not being a lawyer, here are my layperson’s thoughts on it…

    Meggitt sued and won his defamation case against Hardy. Surely case closed? Going on to sue Twitter as well seems avaricious. Yet this just shows how unclear social media (and digital communications and platforms as a whole) still are, especially in untested legal terms.

    If Hardy had made her allegations over the telephone to numerous people that would have been merely the communication medium, and it’s unlikely anyone would sue the phone company as an accesory to the crime. But, as Socialite Media explains, Meggitt is arguing that Twitter is a “publisher” which is a whole other thing. If Hardy, for example, had made her claim on a television program, it would not be unusual to also sue the TV station.

    So what is a “publisher” and what is a “communication medium” in the digital age? I don’t have the answer, but I don’t think there’s a clear distinction anymore either. Unfortunately, the law does distinguish, which is where the difficulty is. Agreeing to all these Terms of Use online is, as the various primers have shown, not only usually ignored and full of one-sided privileging of corporations’ power, but they are largely untested.

    Laws and agreements are easy to make, but they are basically worthless until they are tested in courts to determine their validity and application (Black, 2012). All of which, of course, costs money and time and these are things that large corporations have easy access to, unlike individual consumers.

    Reference
    Black, P. (2012). Will Marieke Hardy’s Twitter case change Australian law for ever? The Conversation. Retrieved from http://theconversation.com/will-marieke-hardys-twitter-case-change-australian-law-for-ever-5432
    SLMEDIA. (February 20, 2012). Australian Joshua Meggitt Sues Twitter.
    Socialite Media. Retrieved October 27, 2013, from http://socialitemedia.com.au/australian-joshua-meggitt-sues-twitter/824/