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Digital Citizens told: Freedom of tweet? You never had it

People working in communications who bemoan the loss of their right to freely tweet their views regardless of client or business conflict never had the right in the first place, last night’s first meeting of Digital Citizens was told.  

The debate, held in Sydney, heard from Ogilvy PR’s Sam North, a former managing editor at the Sydney Morning Herald. He told the audience: “If you are talking about your clients negatively then you’ve got a problem. Why should you be able to? It’s never happened throughout history – why should social media be different?”

And journalist Renai LeMay, founder of Delimiter, warned that simply removing an employer’s details from a social media profile was not enough to give people freedom to say whatever they wanted, as the information was still readily available. He said: “I think you should put who you work for on your Twitter account. If you don’t, journalists are going to find out anyway.”

BMF’s Damian Damjanovski warned: “Advertising is one of the first industries which is seeing a blur in a personal presence online and professional presence online. It’s reasonable to expect that anybody who can find any portion of an online presence can find other areas.”

Earlier this year, Mumbrella reported on PR agency Hill & Knowlton’s issues with client Telstra after a senior member of staff used Twitter several times to criticise the dumping of its phone directories.

North said: “What you say about Telstra around the dinner table is one thing. But what you say on Twitter is a different thing.”

In response to the suggestion that this reduced the right to freedom of speech, North said: ‘You never had that right. You had the right of private conversation.”

However social media lawyer Adrian Dayton urged against keeping Twitter profiles to a locked setting, as one purpose of using the tool is to build up a profile. Urging the use of “good judgement” in what was sensible to tweet, he said: “If you set it to private, you might as well be at the dinner table.” He added: “Anything you would say to a group of people at a party you would say on Twitter.”

And LeMay added: “You need to realise that Twitter is not private. If you’ve got one folllower, you are not private.”

However Damjanovski argued: “A lot of people out there use it as a personal communications method. There are lots of people with no more than 70 followers . When did we get to the point that this is suddenly publishing and should be treated as such?

Audience member Kate Carruthers pointed out that Australian law doesn’t guarantee freedom of speech, and employment contracts perpetuate “a master-servant relationship”.

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