Twitter, Silliness Policing and Kantipur

A user at twitter posts some unflattering comments about his boss. Next thing he knows, his comments are published in a national newspaper. He is not notified before the comment is published, and almost lost his job.

What do you think? Is it ok for a national newspaper to publish a tweet, publicly available and not protected, without notifying or seeking permission from the user?

Before you make up your mind, let me share some facts.

The national newspaper in question here is Kantipur Daily-Nepal’s largest circulating national daily. The tweet was published, along with couple of other randomly selected ones, in its Friday supplement  Hello Sukrabar.

Ashish Luitel, Kantipur reporter, who is behind this tweet sharing experiment, defended his action amidst avalanche of negative comments. At Twitter-where else? Nepali bloggers (including yours truly) called his action breach of privacy.

He responded that because the tweets were not protected and publicly viewable, there should be no expectation of privacy.

Well, I disagree. Yes, the tweets were publicly viewable but that does not imply that the user was ok granting a national newspaper rights to publish it and make it available to larger public. How many times have we griped about our bosses? if all of that were to be made public, no one in this world would have a job. Social media has extended the sphere of debate and also blurred the line between private and public. You post something at Facebook or Twitter, and if you are not careful, it comes back to haunt you.

User in this incident, should have kept his tweets private, if he expected privacy; but is he not allowed to be silly about his boss without being nationally ridiculed? Is the media so powerful and ever-present that even random acts of silliness now make it into national newspaper?

Also, for a publication like Kantipur, does it make any sense to pick random tweets and publish them-without approval from users or notifying them; when the tweets are just too random to make any sense?

The published tweets, are all over the place and don’t contribute anything to discussions now going on around the world or in Nepal. At Twitter, Nepali youth are organizing fund-raisers to help social causes, some are debating civil servants and their right to politics free work place. To ignore all that and to select few tweets that are not part of any coherent debate, just for the sake of it is pathetic waste of time and space.

Ashish Luitel was nice enough to answer his critics and present his side of the story, unfortunately his experiment of adding some “hip” stuff into boring sections of Hello Sukrabar by inserting random tweets shows the fickleness of Nepali media and is a sad testament to the fact how un-evolved they are on matters related to social media and privacy.

17 thoughts on “Twitter, Silliness Policing and Kantipur

  1. Agrees. Journalist of one of the top national daily should have thought about the privacy and at least should have asked for permission. This is really a blunder by such a journalist.

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  3. You say “Yes, the tweets were publicly viewable but that does not imply that the user was ok granting a national newspaper rights to publish it and make it available to larger public.”

    >>Make it available to larger public? Are you aware about the number the registered Twitter users? More than 175 millions. And public tweets can, in principle, be accessed by almost anyone with access to the Internet. There are more than a billion people with the access to the net. Kantipur website claims that the paper has a circulation of about 200,000 copies. Are you saying that a tweet when reproduced from Twitter in Kantipur can go to the audience larger than Twitter already has?

    I hope you will agree with the fact that Twitter, with all the openness it provides, is a public forum. (I am not talking about the protected tweets) Whatever said on this forum is liable to laws. For example, in the US you can’t not use Twitter, or any other web site or medium for that matter, to issue death threats. That will be illegal. Which means whatever expressed on Twitter is subject to legal action.

    International examples show that newspapers do not need to get prior permission from the Twitterer to publish his/her tweets if they are unprotected. Nepal doesn’t have any explicit ruling with regard to newspapers’ right to publish (or not to publish) tweets but in such cases, in the world of law, established precedence, examples and rulings around the world, in other countries,- mostly in democracies- are taken into account by other democracies.

    Here are couple of paragraphs from the Guardian newspaper in the US (Tuesday 8 February 2011):

    The Press Complaints Commission ruled on Tuesday that information posted on Twitter should be considered public and publishable by newspapers after it cleared the Daily Mail and Independent on Sunday of breaching privacy guidelines.

    Both newspapers had reported on tweets posted by Sarah Baskerville, a Department for Transport employee, in November last year. Baskerville, who had around 700 Twitter followers at the time, described a course leader as “mental” and posted links to tweets attacking government “spin” and Whitehall waste.

    Stephen Abell, the director of the PCC, said: “This is an important ruling by the commission. As more and more people make use of such social media to publish material related to their lives, the commission is increasingly being asked to make judgments about what can legitimately be described as private information.

    “In this case, the commission decided that republication of material by national newspapers, even though it was originally intended for a smaller audience, did not constitute a privacy intrusion.”

    In a news report titled “Diplomatic Breakdown Amid Bieber Fever in Israel” the New York Times (12 April 2011) publishes two tweets from the Canadian signer Justin Bieber. Here you go:

    “Since Mr. Bieber arrived in Israel on Monday he has been mobbed by screaming teenage girls and overwhelmed by paparazzi, leading him to complain on Twitter that he had even been hounded at holy places.

    “They should be ashamed of themselves,” he wrote on Tuesday. “Take pictures of me eating but not in a place of prayer, ridiculous.”

    In another Twitter message, he wrote: “i want to see this country and all the places ive dreamed of and whether its the paps or being pulled into politics its been frustrating.”

    Now, will you ask the Times if they sought prior permission from Bieber to publish his tweets? If you ask me, I would say: No, the Times didn’t seek permission because anything posted on Twitter as an unprotected tweet counts as a public statement.

    Now, you may argue: Oh come on, Bieber is a celebrity, how can you compare him with this ‘general, non-celebrity, person’ from Nepal. And my answer to that question would be: Laws and social norms apply equally to everyone regardless of their social status. Just because someone is lesser known doesn’t mean he has the immunity from social norms and laws that celebrities are expected to abide by. You cannot give one person a shield of privacy just because he is lessor known while taking away the shield of privacy to the other person just because he is better known.

    You write:

    “How many times have we griped about our bosses? if all of that were to be made public, no one in this world would have a job.”

    ..made public! So you believe an unprotected tweet, already public and viewable and searchable by engines, is ‘made public’ only if it comes on a newspaper?

    You are responsible for what you write on the Web. You will have to face the penalty if your tweet is deemed liable by concerned authorities. There are several instances of people losing their jobs because of what they wrote on the Web in general and Twitter in particular.

    Here are examples:

    From NYT (July 7, 2010):
    “CNN Drops Editor After Hezbollah Comments”
    By BRIAN STELTER
    CNN on Wednesday removed its senior editor for Middle Eastern affairs, Octavia Nasr, from her job after she published a Twitter message saying that she respected the Shiite cleric the Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, who died on Sunday.

    And search this “Fired Over Twitter: 13 Tweets That Got People CANNED” on Google which will lead you to the Huffington Post page for details.

    This all suggests that a tweet doesn’t necessarily have to be reproduced by a newspaper to have its impact. If you tweet against the policy of your organization then you will be fired. You can be a whistle blower if you want but that’s a different thing.

    And why do you think a newspaper should be blamed for reproducing a tweet (we have already discussed on permission thing- which is not needed) without twisting the content? And why the newspaper must be accused of putting a person’s job in danger just because it reproduced the tweet that has been made available to the world by the twitterer? Have you seen anyone blaming Twitter for enabling the sacked journalists and employees to post tweets that caused them to be fired? Why are you blaming the medium? The tweet that Kantipur published could easily have been forwarded to the boss of the person in question by anyone. Or the boss herself could have seen them. In that case, would you have blamed Twitter because it provided forum to the person to Tweet that in turn became the reason for him to be fired?

    You ask: “is he not allowed to be silly about his boss without being nationally ridiculed?”

    He may have all the rights. But why are you blaming the paper for endangering his rights when the Twitter itself provides more audience than the paper in question. Moreover, as I have said, his boss could have seen- in principle- that tweet even if the paper hadn’t published them. In that case, and if he had been fired because his boss saw that tweet on Twitter, would you have blamed the site (Twitter) for making the man jobless?

    You write: “The published tweets, are all over the place and don’t contribute anything to discussions now going on around the world or in Nepal.”

    >>What makes you think that anything that is published in a newspaper- that too in the youth supplement, not the main section of the paper- MUST contribute “to discussions now going on around the world or in Nepal”? It seems to me that the whole concept of that column- as you said ‘tweets are just too random’- is to offer random view of what the Nepali twitteraty is talking about. When it is random, anything can go into that as long as the newspaper finds them publishable. And this ‘finding’ business is called judgement. Editorial judgement. People like you and me may differ with it because they are almost always the the judgement of a few people- editors and coordinators and reporters. And the same applies to the judgement of other news items too. Like, why that particular news item on the front page, why that on the top of second page and that on lower left corner of the third page.

    “just for the sake of it is pathetic waste of time and space…….. unfortunately his experiment of adding some “hip” stuff into boring sections of Hello Sukrabar by inserting random tweets shows the fickleness of Nepali media”

    >> You seem to be genuinely concerned about the pathetic waste of time and space. Let me tell you that the whole paper that day consisted 24 pages. Did you not find time to read any of the article (dozens of them in total) in the newspaper, especially in the main section, except those seven tweets that were published on a corner of the last page- that too of the supplement, not the main section? Why must one expect matter of some national importance and relevance to the random tweets selected for a youth infotainment supplement? Moreover, did you not get time to read any of the other stories published in the same issue of the supplement? I enjoyed reading the cover story that which has a wonderful theme. Then there’s an informative story on facebook email. And a piece about the ads in the past year.

    I generally find the supplement interesting. It would be nice to know which section bored you and what do you mean by “hip” stuff into boring sections of Hello Sukrabar. It would be nice to know which are the boring sections according to you.

    “and is a sad testament to the fact how un-evolved they are on matters related to social media and privacy.”

    >> What makes you think that they are “un-evolved on matters related to social media and privacy?” Just because they introduced a column entrely based on Tweets which is done by very few publications in the whole of south asia? Or is it because they frequently write about technical stuffs, including about the social media and web 2.0- an example of which is contained in the same issue (piece on Facebook email)? What, according to you, is an ideal example of being evolved ‘on matters related to social media and privacy?’

    PS: While writing such a long article about the whole thing how conveniently did you avoid to put forward your opinion (like you say: I disagree) on the death threats issued by one of the twitterers to the journalists. And there were barrage of obscene tweets all targeted against the journalists. And you found them appropriate that you used not a single word to comment on that and selected another tweet, safe one huh, to present your great critique! Oh, don’t come up with ‘I didn’t see that’ excuse because if you say that you will be branded a person who writes things without understanding the issue in its entirety. That will also show “the fickleness of [your blogging adventure and aspiration to become a foreign correspondent AND be] a sad testament to the fact how un-evolved [you] are on matters related to social media and privacy” and everything else. Thank you.

  4. Since my comment hasn’t been approved as now…after several hours of posting it.. should I consider it rejected here and thus qualified to be sent to other websites?

    • Dear newspaper reader and Ashish Luitel
      A little humility will take you a long way, even if you think youve done nothing wrong.

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  7. @newspaper reader

    glad to have some opposite view that defends the the tweetaction. You have rightfully mentioned about twitter being open, public and accessible by everyone. You have also rightfully mention that Bieber’s tweet was posted without seeking approval from him by god-knows-how-many papers. But your argument has some fallacies in it. Let me make it short and brief while trying to answer why i believe though the motive of paper was good enough but gone wrong one.

    1. you said: tweeter is public and accessible by everyone so tweet will reach to 175 million people. Agreed
    2. newspapers across the world post the twitters and so can Kantipur. With slight, discomfort agreed.
    3. UK ruling and also US ruling: Agreed.
    4. Online behaviour should be well defined: Agreed.

    But.
    Can NY times copy and paste photo taken by me or my own picture without my approval or consent? If you see closely they didn’t publish his tweet along with his username and picture. Or did they, if i haven’t seen it forgive me.

    I believe tweet cannot be declared copyright material but copyright act makes it clear that photographs are indeed copyrighted materials. And similar law (i am not law student to define upto what extent) also makes it use of unauthorised use of photos for commercial gains punishable by law. And by using picture/name without approval the paper indeed crossed the line. If you argue its ok to use, i won’t have any more argument to put forward. I will just pray your public pic wont be used in wrong context tomorrow.

    You also mentioned about ruling in UK but do the ruling in UK has jurisdiction in Nepal? Probably it could be a referring ruling but you cannot make judgement based on some judgements made in far away country. If you look at history, till 1924 UK didn;t allow female to vote. Till 1963 blacks were segregated in US. Even 9/11 terror suspects who were proved innocent later have had to go through describable torture by US/UK , so should Nepal also support institutional torture? You might argue they were considered threat to national security, then why your paper makes big news on some cases regarding HR violation by state and Maoists during insurgency. Later were also considered as national security threat.
    Should Nepal do same like US/UK because once they were jurisdiction of same country that you have referred. If you start following their judgement then you should ask for capital punishment for many crimes which is still in practice across many democratic countries but sadly our constitution, our values and our love for democracy do not accept such kind of jurisdiction of any country blindly.

    About public vs. regular person: if i say you do not hav right to seek what public persons are doing in their private life would you agree? No, you believe since they are accountable to public you have right to dig in their private life to make them accountable to your action. But doesn’t constitution provides them with right to privacy? You would argue of your right to information. But why would you be interested in on which bed Prachanda slept or wore Rolex watch but not in my life or his life or her life who are unknown. You would argue they are public person. But i believe law applies equal to all which means you cannot peek in their private life within their room. But still journalist seems to have crossed the door to write about PM’s 100,000 rs. worth bed. Why this difference?

    There are rules, there are practise but at the end: it’s your conscience. If your conscience believes everything is right: there’s no point trying to tell journalists you did wrong here…

  8. why would you put the information in public and expect privacy thats just stupid. Twitter is just new medium of communication where you can control your privacy, if you want only some of the trusted people wants to read your tweet make it private. Say writing was also new at some point of time in history so if some body wrote awful things about you and says oh i have just written it down i am just responsible for what i have written would you accept that ? i think same apples here.

    • don’t you think kantipur has better things to publish than fishing around for random tweets? yes, the tweets were public, but is every public info worth being published in a national newspaper?

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