Twitter Legal Social Media

Cyberlaw predictions: #9 - The Love Affair with Twitter continues

By Mark Leiser | Research Fellow

December 28, 2013 | 8 min read

A very loose collection of cyberlaw predictions for 2014. More social media lunacy The cloud gets a whole lot larger. The Internet starts to erase itself, much to Google’s chagrin. Facebook implodes. For the first time in the history of 3D printing, a 3D printer gets printed by a 3D printer. Everyone locks everything on the Internet down. Legal challenges to Cameron’s porn filters. The Daily Mail continues to advocate for the blocking of every offensive website, except its. Intellectual Property lawyers continue sending letters demanding things be removed from the Internet, highlighting their complete misunderstanding of the Streisand effect.

Number 9: The love affair with Twitter continues in the face of law enforcement

Outrage at the idiocy of social media users results in community backlash. Twitter continues its role as the darling of the Internet community by standing up for US 1st Amendment principles, take more steps to protect anonymity.

Last year columnist Caitlin Moran proposed a 24 hour Twitter blackout in response to the “failings” of the network to offer “protection” to people like Caroline Cirado-Perez. Ms Ciradp-Perez had suffered awful verbal abuse from trolls in response to her wonderful campaign to keep a woman on the country’s bank notes. I was very critical of Ms Moran for her ill-founded campaign - not because she didn’t have a point, but for the fact that she attacked the platform rather than addressing the speakers. I found the whole protest much akin to boycotting Speakers’ Corner rather than engaging with the speakers who spout abuse from atop of the stump.

2013 saw David Cameron force ISPs to categorise the Internet turning large swaths of the web offline as if they didn’t exist for young people. If 2013 is the year that we broke the Internet, then 2014 is the year will be the year when we fall in love with Twitter all over again. Yes, in 2013 social media has given us such gems like #HasJustineLandedYet (Justine Sacco’s racist tweet sent before boarding a 12 hour flight) and a plethora of bad/racist/ill-informed/sexist/homophobic tweets. But in many ways, Twitter has been the anti-NSA social network. They have done everything they can to protect the identity and accounts of those who wish to remain anonymous. And they have done this in the face of officials who are determined to identify who it really is behind the profile picture.

In 2012, Twitter earned praise from the American Civil Liberties Union for refusing to hand over data about an Occupy Wall Street protestor. In 2011, Twitter was the only company to challenge secret requests to hand over data regarding the accounts of Wikileaks. I expect 2014 will see Twitter take more steps to protect identity of account holders whose speech people don’t like, which doesn’t amount to criminal speech.

As more information comes online and more users become more intimately involved in social media, users are going to adapt strategies about ensuring privacy - and without fail, a recent trend has to develop pseudonymity and anonymity through the use of double accounts: one identity that is free for the world to see, and another that is for close friends and family.

This is very important, and the idea of pseudonymity and anonymity on the internet should not be underestimated. We are now in the stage where government will be more active in forcing identification from Twitter as users have protected their identity while not respecting the identity of other people, and authorities find it very hard to identify these people because of measures that can be deployed (TOR network and encrypted emails) to hide true location and identity.

There are already methods in place for companies like Google and Twitter to remove the content on their platforms if it falls foul of the terms and conditions of the platforms. It is increasingly difficult for companies to identify and determine whether or not specific content is defamatory, or infringing copyright, abusive, or breaks an injunction of some sort. In most cases, the community will self-regulate. A swarm of users will point out the error of the user’s way forcing the user into a mea culpa of sorts. In other cases, the platform provider will use some sort of notice-and-takedown procedure where a court instructs a platform provider to remove the content. More often than not, Twitter will correspond the the court order and remove the content.

Problem solved.

But now Twitter is under attack from law enforcement and courts for not revealing the identity of the account holder. Last week, Google’s transparency report highlighted the nearly 100 million requests to take down copyright infringing links and locations online. Interestingly, within that report was the further news that Google had requests from judges who wanted criticism of them removed from the search engine returns. Not exactly the honest injunction we expect from the bench.

Twitter also has the added jurisdictional issue that comes from privacy and data protection that exists in the UK. Both the Data Protection Act here in the UK and the Data Protection Directive in Europe protect the user from Twitter from turning over data to anyone that comes along and asks for it. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) allows for ISPs to turn over data that can prevent crimes and terrorism, and this works very well proving that the Internet in the UK is a regulated space. Large companies that are making money from the UK market will respond to court orders ordering them to remove content.

So why is the user under attack? There are users that are still flaunting the rule of law who, unlike Peaches Geldof who breached a court order by naming the mothers of the victims who were handed over to Iain Watkins for abuse, have concealed their identity. Infamously, there is a twitter handle (who cannot be named here for legal reasons) who outed the names behind injunctions and super-injunctions. These type of issues Twitter will have to come to terms with.

But Twitter will continue to protect the identification of those who are organising protests, leaking information, making political observations and participating in cyber civil-disobedience.

Recall the Ryan Giggs injunction disorder. Or the Trafigura incident. Both parties were protected by court orders, yet Twitter users reacted in a collective swarm when threatened by legal action for ‘outing’ their identities. The response is often referred to as a #IamSpartacus defence. The Internet community reacts when under attack, which is why despite Ms Moran’s best efforts, the day of her protest saw increased traffic on the network. Twitter, whether talking about the community or the platform itself, will return to protection mode when information is under threatened by law enforcement. More scandals will break, more faux outrage will last for 24 hours. And then society will move on. Twitter will no doubt turn over information regarding criminal content, but it will do this under heightened awareness that criminal proceedings doesn't necessarily mean criminal guilt.

And this is why the love affair with Twitter will continue.

Yesterday, Mark Leiser elaborated on his prediction that there would be another Edward Snowden.

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