August 24, 2011
Twitter is fast becoming the celebrity’s favourite social media tool. It is used to inform the world of every detail of their private lives, their thoughts on important public issues or even what they think of the latest cinematic release. There is a fine line between unashamed self-promotion and egotistical bluster and nobody really cares which side of the line tweets fall on except employers.
Joey Barton, historically not a stranger to the law of course, has brought the issue of Twitter to the forefront of the sports news recently with some high profile gripes he has with his employers, Newcastle United. Take football out of the equation and this could apply to any workplace, any employer and any employee. This incident (and many others that have arisen out of over-zealous Twitter users) open up a plethora of legal issues.
Can freedom of expression be explored without bringing the business of your employer into disrepute? Are you breaching your employment contract by taking your private thoughts and putting them into the public domain?
Not only that, but are we going to see libel cases appear every time an employee makes an inflammatory comment about their boss? Of course, how many followers would you need to have to actually defame your employer? Remember that the “defamed” does not have to prove a loss due to the libel.
Joey Barton will probably leave Newcastle and be “punished” by signing another multi-million pound contract elsewhere. However, employees that are not so fortunate to be in such a glitzy profession could find themselves at the Job Centre with legal action pending.
The evolution of instant social media will throw up more questions in the coming months and years and it will be interesting to see how employers develop policies dealing with such websites and regulating their employees’ contribution. Twitter, and other social media, are laden with both benefits and problems which the English legal system will no doubt have to rule on sooner or later.
As a final point, and said without a hint of irony, please feel free to follow us on Twitter – @capeclarke for more regular musings and updates from CapeClarke.