A Nova Scotia judge is welcoming Twitter into his courtroom with open arms.
A Nova Scotia judge is welcoming Twitter into his courtroom with open arms.
A tweet posted by Courtney Love, singer and frontwoman of the band Hole, was not defamatory, a US jury has decided in a closely-watched and possibly landmark legal case.
Picture the scene. You’re happily married. Then, one day, you’re not, going through a messy divorce. Years later, you find out that your wife was an early, secret investor in Twitter. A fact that she hid from you. Now, post Twitter IPO, that investment is worth tens of millions.
What do you do?
‘It’, of course, is writing something really careless on Twitter or Facebook.
Whatever the reason, once it’s out there the damage is done. No matter how fast you are to delete, somebody always sees it. And the more people you connect with, the further the message spreads and the worse the end result. Social media brings tremendous benefits but those gains also come with an element of risk, for individuals and especially brands.
Thankfully, where there’s risk, there’s insurance. And it could be coming soon to Twitter.
As I wrote back in May of last year, Paul Chambers holds the dubious distinction of being the first Briton to be convicted of a criminal offense because of something he wrote on Twitter.
As Chambers detailed in The Guardian:
“The reason for the arrest was a tweet I had posted on the social network Twitter, which was deemed to constitute a bomb threat against Robin Hood airport in Doncaster: “Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!” You may say, and I certainly realise now, it was ill-advised. But it was clearly frustration, caused by heavy snowfall grounding flights and potentially scuppering my own flight a week later. Like having a bad day at work and stating that you could murder your boss, I didn’t even think about whether it would be taken seriously.”
Unfortunately for Chambers it was taken very seriously indeed.
From today (March 1, 2011), the UK Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA) online remit has been extended to cover brands’ marketing claims on their own websites and in other ‘non-paid for space’ that they control, which includes Twitter and Facebook.
We already regulate internet ads in paid-for space, like banner ads, pop-ups and paid search results, but our new responsibilities mean that we now apply the same high standards to marketing communications on companies own websites and in other non-paid space they control, like Facebook and Twitter.
The UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, which includes rules to make sure advertisements do not mislead, harm or offend, will be applied to all UK based company websites regardless of the sector or size of business or organisation.
In 2010, the internet was second only to television in total complaints made to the ASA – some 3,546 in total. However, the agency was unable to take action as more than half of these fell outside of its remit. Not no more.
The Telegraph adds:
In an effort to protect freedom of speech online the rules will focus on ads that sell products rather than journalistic and editorial content, the ASA said.
The watchdog will be able to demand the removal of paid-for links to pages hosting a banned advertisement, with the agreement of search engines.
It could also place its own advertisements online, highlighting an advertiser’s continued refusal to comply with a ruling.
The BBC notes that the ‘transient nature of online content’ could make the rules difficult to police.
“I could have an advert up on the internet for a week or for an hour, cause widespread confusion, get sales from that, and then withdraw it,” says Vincent-Wayne Mitchell, professor of consumer marketing at London’s Cass Business School.
“The only punishment that the ASA has is withdrawal, but I can have that as part of my own marketing strategy.”
User-generated content, such as comments left by customers on a website, will not be covered by the extended powers.
But the ASA said that such content could be examined if a company adopted it and used positive endorsements to advertise.
This part in particular could have a significant impact on the value of Facebook’s recently-launched Sponsored Stories ad platform for UK-based brands.
It will interesting to see whether the powers granted to the ASA in this extension to their online remit are actually (and realistically) enforceable, whether they’ll have the time and staff to go after everybody, or if only the biggest of companies need to be concerned. Of course, they’re already the most likely to be doing everything by the book anyway, so you might just find that all of those ads for white teeth and weight loss will still be with us for some time to come.
We’ve all witnessed the important role that networks like Twitter and Facebook have played in recent world events. And we’ve also seen how quickly governments remove access to these networks when they threaten their survival, as well as the levels that people are prepared to go to get around these blockades (and even how the biggest players in tech have helped).
Dr Hamadoun Toure, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), says that governments must “regard the internet as basic infrastructure – just like roads, waste and water. We have entered the knowledge society and everyone must have access to participate.”
Few would disagree. But the internet as both an entity and concept is vast, and a fundamental right to access it as a whole is not the same thing as the right to access every part of it. And just how deep do these rights go – for example, is access to Twitter something that somebody in prison should expect? Or even demand?
After all, it’s not unheard of for prisoners to be using Facebook and other mediums to broadcast their message to the world. Right now, sure, it’s frowned upon, but as a society (certainly in the West) we’ve softened our expectations of prison life for all but the most evil of criminals. I don’t think anyone really likes the idea of Richard Ramirez having a Facebook page, but what about your more common or garden inmate? Should a guy doing six months for tax evasion lose all access to the social space, or is that excessive and unnecessary? Perhaps even cruel and unusual punishment?
Right now, I suspect that most people would feel that Twitter was a luxury, certainly for the majority of detainees. But times change, and much as everybody has a right to their one phone call, it’s not completely out of the realms of possibility that, somewhere down the line, access to social networks for prisoners will be fairly commonplace, albeit with inevitable (and necessary) restrictions in place. And there will always be exceptions, those that committed crimes so heinous that the very thought of them having any legitimate contact with the rest of the world would make us shudder.
Or will it? Rights are rights, after all, even for the most wicked of prisoners. And who are we to decide otherwise?
UPDATE (Feb 4, 2011): I’ve heard back from Steve Crawford who’s confirmed that the domain was bought by Twitter for the asking price.
“Sold, after mediation via Nominet. I think the DRS process is flawed, however. I would have liked to have done the Expert Decision first and then gone to mediation but Nominet don’t work that way. I looked at lots of cases where the decision went in favour of the respondent (e.g., myspace.co.uk, ripley.co.uk, swan.co.uk etc) but couldn’t find a single case where the respondent had gone on to sell the domain. I put pragmatism before pride and took the money. But we’ll never know which way the decision would have gone.
I’ll use the money to promote my new product, Azabat Write, which is an adaptation of my original t.w.i.t.t.e.r. project.”
Rest of my article untouched as below. Despite pursuing multiple angles, I never heard back from Twitter.
If you visit twitter.co.uk you’ll be re-routed to twitter.com. Nothing unusual about that, you might think. Except for many years Twitter.co.uk wasn’t owned by Twitter at all, and went to an entirely different website.
Last month, the ownership of the twitter.co.uk domain name passed over to Twitter themselves.
Prior to this, twitter.co.uk was owned and operated by software developer Steve Crawford, who bought the domain in 2005. Twttr.com, which was the original domain (and brand) name for Twitter, didn’t materialise until 2006. The first tweet (sent by co-founder Jack Dorsey) wasn’t published until March 6, 2006. Twitter.com was registered shortly afterwards, but all of this took place long after the creation of the .co.uk website. So why was the latter built at all?
As told by The Guardian:
Crawford says he wanted to use the site for an accessibility software project – ‘Talking Wordprocessor, Internet, Typing Tutor, Email Resources’ – that later dried up, but since Twitter’s massive growth post-Christmas boom he has seen traffic soar, along with a rather tedious admin problem.
He says Twitter is effectively spamming him, albeit in a roundabout way. When new users register with Twitter they have to enter an email address, but Twitter doesn’t ask users to confirm the address. For some bizarre reason, some people are using addresses @twitter.co.uk, which means Crawford keeps getting email from Twitter when any of those ‘users’ (either confused new users, or spam accounts) gets a new follower, or any other email update from Twitter. He’s already had more than a hundred emails and gets a visitor every 24 seconds.
To his credit, Crawford used that accidental traffic as a way for charities to run free adverts on his site.
He had even a Twitter page:
Eventually he put the twitter.co.uk domain up for sale – the asking price was Â£30,000 (about $48,000). He gave Twitter first refusal, but they turned him down.
Crawford’s last update on the matter was April 2010. You can see his website almost in full (bar a few missing images) at azabat.co.uk/twitter, where I’m guessing it was previously hosted. Azabat is (or was) Crawford’s company – somewhat amusingly, he doesn’t own the .com.
Here’s the big question – did Twitter pay up? Â£30,000 is a very small amount to pay for such a high profile, top level domain, even if was simply to secure the outpost. And as Twitter’s importance has grown ensuring all the important domains were controlled by the mothership would have become exponentially more important.
But then again, nobody could have realistically done anything (of value) with this domain except Twitter. ‘Twitter’ is a contextual trademark, after all, and even allowing for the fact that the twitter.co.uk domain was secured before this become a legality Twitter, Inc would certainly have had a lot of leverage if this had been taken to court. However, there’s no record of a dispute being filed at Nominet, so it seems unlikely they pursued this course of action.
The short answer is: nobody knows what happened except the parties involved. I’ve reached out to Steve Crawford and Twitter and will update this article accordingly.
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