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Freedom Of Tweets: Does Twitter Need Policy To Protect YOU From Defamation?

Interesting piece over at the official Twitter blog about how they manage freedom of expression on the network (i.e., they don’t):

The open exchange of information can have a positive global impact. This is both a practical and ethical belief. On a practical level, we simply cannot review all one hundred million-plus Tweets created and subsequently delivered every day. From an ethical perspective, almost every country in the world agrees that freedom of expression is a human right. Many countries also agree that freedom of expression carries with it responsibilities and has limits.

Our position on freedom of expression carries with it a mandate to protect our users’ right to speak freely and preserve their ability to contest having their private information revealed. While we may need to release information as required by law, we try to notify Twitter users before handing over their information whenever we can so they have a fair chance to fight the request if they so choose.

Twitter has policy for what you’re allowed to do with your profile (see here for details), but as I’ve written before (over 18 months ago) they don’t seem to have published (or act upon) anything that deals with defamation. The upcoming lawsuit involving Courtney Love will likely expose this as a gaping hole on the network.

Let’s not forget that the vast majority of tweets are indexed on the major search engines, too, and therefore cross well beyond Twitter’s 200 million (ish) users and are, potentially, out there forever.

My guess? It might take another couple of celebrity lawsuits, but pretty soon that official Twitter defamation policy will be in place.

All of which begs the question – should a Twitter abuse team be enabled with the authority to remove tweets that cross a predetermined line? Or maybe we need a system where the users police themselves, perhaps with a variation on the +/- scoring mechanism used by many social bookmarking sites. If a given tweet breaches a negative threshold (or somebody complains directly) then Twitter’s abuse team steps in to investigate.

This isn’t about celebrities – they’ll have lawyers in place to handle this stuff, and you have to take a lot of it with a pinch in this PR-crazy world. Lots of ‘normal’ people stand to get hurt by baseless allegation and libel. I’m a huge believer in freedom of speech, but only if somebody is looking out for the little guy. I’m not convinced Twitter is doing enough in this area, and saying that they don’t have time to go through all the tweets sounds like an excuse, and isn’t really the point. Set up that abuse team and install a system where users can police themselves and let that become your filter. It’s a fine line, of course, but any community by definition needs to have some limits in place.

What say you?

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