Twitter’s 7th birthday: A look back at the controversies

James Silcocks
twittetr 300x225 Twitters 7th birthday: A look back at the controversies

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Today Twitter celebrates its seventh birthday. It was on this day in 2006 that creator Jack Dorsey sent out his very first tweet and a new social network was born. And while many similar sites may have withered and effectively died (think MySpace and Bebo), Twitter has grown in popularity, approval, and global recognition. By their own estimations, Twitter has over 200 million active users, with over 400 million tweets sent every single day.

It may have attracted its fair share of criticism from technophobes and cynics, but all sorts of people have recognised the importance of joining and engaging with the Twittersphere: politicians, musicians, bloggers, journalists and budding celebrities. The potential to reach and interact with fans is incomparable; Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry have a collective fan base of over 100 million followers.

But of course as with every successful social network there was always likely to be a number of controversies; some of which would have life-changing consequences for those involved.

One such example is the Twitter joke trial which all started in January 2010. After discovering that his upcoming travel plans could be in jeopardy, 26-year-old Paul Chambers tweeted: “Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your s**t together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!”

Mr Chambers was heavily fined for what had essentially been a misguided joke and it took three separate appeals before his conviction was finally quashed in July 2012 – more than two-and-a-half years after the tweet had been sent.

A more recent example of legally-problematic tweeting came courtesy of Sally Bercow, former Celebrity Big Brother contestant and wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons. Mrs Bercow alluded to false claims of Lord McAlpine’s involvement in a child abuse scandal when she tweeted “Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *innocent face*” to her 56,000 followers in November 2012.

Mrs Bercow is now in the process of being sued for libel by Lord McAlpine. Twitter users who retweeted the claim were originally threatened with legal action too, but – to the relief of many – it seems like most of these offenders are now off the hook.

Such misuses of Twitter seems to be happening more and more regularly in recent times, which is perhaps inevitable as the microblogging site continues to expand. Whether it’s the barefaced snubbing of Ryan Giggs’ superinjuction, naming the rape victim in the Ched Evans trial, or sharing recent photographs of one of the James Bulger murderers, it seems that many people regard Twitter as a safe haven for flouting these legal responsibilities.

But just because you hide behind a computer screen it does not excuse you from laws regarding defamation and contempt of court, and you’ll do yourself no favours for behaving as though you’re above the law. Over 650 people faced criminal charges last year in connection with comments that they had shared on social network websites, including Twitter.

Twitter has become a useful and powerful tool over these last seven years, and its power and popularity continue to grow. Although it can be used for anything, whether it’s raising your public profile or simply sharing a few thoughts with friends, the potential for misuse is ever-present for each and every user.

So go ahead, use Twitter’s great features and its international reach to your own advantage – but remember to tweet responsibly!

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  • creggancowboy

    Twitter is such a threat that during the 2011 uprising plod wanted it closed down.

  • Mike Ross

    “Over 650 people faced criminal charges last year in connection with comments that they had shared on social network websites, including Twitter.”

    Which is an absolute indictment of the state of free speech in the UK; I’m sure that none, or virtually none, of them would be criminal matters in the USA, for instance. In the UK we happily jail people for posting burning poppy pics.

    Which brings me to my main point: “…because you hide behind a computer screen it does not excuse you from laws…” – yes, IF you’re British! Those British laws do NOT apply to the 98% of internet users who live outside the UK. What is the point in prosecuting Brits for naming a rape victim or breaking an injunction (e.g. Jon Venables cases) when everyone else on the internet, from Shanghai to Seattle, can tweet the names and information with impunity??

    All it does is restrict the free speech of Brits. Canute syndrome, I call it; the internet does not stop at the UK border. British law does, and those who think such debates are important would do well to remember that.

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