Fairness, justice and twitter

Twitter JusticeThere have been countless analyses in past weeks on twitter and various issues surrounding super-injunctions, libelous activities and privacy invasion.  I’m not going to engage in an extended rant about this, but just to summarise my perspective:

  1. In spite of Dow Jones v Gutnick, you just can’t assume the defamation laws that apply in local jurisdictions are enforceable over the boundaries of jurisprudence;
  2. Twitter are right to inform users of their service about requests to identify those users in response to threatened litigation;
  3. Ultimately you can’t stop users from broadcasting disinformation or misinformation from an anonymous account, attached to a webmail address, created in an internet cafe, using a device which scrambles IP source, such as Tor.  You also can’t prosecute people from identifiable sources that then go on to repeat or retransmit that information, especially if it is a direct quotation of content found in the public domain. Get over it.

This isn’t like Scott McNealy‘s infamous 1999 declaration, “Privacy is dead – get over it“, or even David Brin‘s 1998 perspective in The Transparent Society, where he noted that the more we try to protect privacy the more we lose it.  We’ve come a long way since those early days of what was technically possible, but confined to the techno elite, to the wilds of critical mass activity online.  This is reality.  You genuinely can do nothing about this.  Either you develop a thick skin and deal with the fact that people will be critical of you and lies will be told about you, or you drop out of the ether.  It’s just that simple.

As for twitter and fairness, the company is doing, as James Ball notes, a better job than most tech companies in sticking up for the autonomy rights of its users (note I say autonomy, not privacy). But more than the rights of the users, there is an issue here of providing the community with a channel for communication – whether the information being communicated is accurate or otherwise.  Ultimately, user accounts on twitter are deemed to be valuable when they generate content that is valued by their audience.  Unless an account is created for the sole purpose of satire, or as a fictional character, continued production of disinformation will ultimately decrease the perceived value of content being generated by a twitter user, and weaken its voice.

However, punitive action against accounts that generate disinformation is likely to raise awareness and interest in the account (ie: spreading the message further).  And litigation arising from this punitive action could act to shut down a channel for awareness raising on current issues of injustice.  So pursuing legal action against disinformation sources is not only self-defeating, but it will potentially throttle the democratic and 5th Estate potential of the medium.

Twitter, as a short messaging system that enables information sharing from the masses – in some cases, regardless of technology access – is a flawed but ultimately valuable platform through which ideas can be shared and debated.  It should not be the focus of draconian attempts to gag its users.

After all, if accuracy is the sole basis upon which any medium is blocked, then Fox News (among several other world media sources) would shut down.

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