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Bad Twitter behaviour and how to avoid it

3-minute read

Jade Wimbledon

Jade Wimbledon

3 August 2012

Several stories have filled the news and swept the web recently, with tweeters’ posts falling foul of both Twitter regulations and laws. We round up the latest news coverage and offer some tips for good social media behaviour.

A journalist who posted critical comments about NBC’s delayed Olympics coverage recently had his Twitter account suspended, purportedly because he published an NBC executive’s email address.

Questions have been raised, however, over Twitter’s swift crackdown, particularly due to their commercial partnership with the broadcaster.

The internet buzzes with debates over whether the social networking site has overstepped the line, and is beginning to undermine its reputation as a supporter of free speech and open communication. But there are also genuine concerns over the use of Twitter and other social networks as vessels for insults and abuse, and uncertainty over how authorities should properly deal with such cases.

Other Twitter clampdowns have also generated lots of coverage recently. Paul Chambers recently won his appeal against his conviction for sending a ‘menacing’ tweet about blowing up an airport. Popular opinion was strongly in favour of Chambers, who garnered high-profile supporters including comedian Al Murray and Twitter favourite Stephen Fry.

Athletes have also been been punished for garrulous social media behaviour. The FA has charged Rio Ferdinand with improper conduct for his response to an offensive tweet about Ashley Cole. It looks likely that Ferdinand will be fined for the comment.

In terms of Olympic athletes, two athletes have so far been sent home from the Games for unacceptable comments. A Greek triple jumper was on a plane home before events even began after racist tweets, while a Swiss footballer was sent home for making abusive comments about the South Korean team.

Athletes have also been on the receiving end of social media insults. A teenager has been arrested for making offensive Twitter comments to young diver Tom Daley after he failed to win a medal in the synchronised dive.

Remember, the world is your audience

It may seem obvious, but many of these stories emphasise that we must keep in mind that Twitter is a public forum. Remember that careless comments may come back to bite you. Consider who is reading them – a recent story about HMRC showed them responding to a tweet about a tax evasion tip, suggesting that the poster should contact their anti-evasion desk. Think that anyone could read what you post, and it could be exactly the person who you least want to read it.

Do what you'd do in the real world

Many people feel a sense of invincibility and anonymity when making social media posts, and don’t apply the consideration and restraint that they would in everyday life and face-to-face contact. A good rule of thumb is a simple one; don’t say anything on your Twitter account that you wouldn’t be prepared to say via another medium. Keep your Twitter tongue in check, and take time to consider each time you make a post.

Don't engage in Twitter spats

If someone else isn’t as well-versed in netiquette as you, then you may find yourself on the receiving end of social media insults. Respond to criticism appropriately and graciously, and refuse to be drawn into unseemly Twitter fights. Encourage angry customers to send you a private message or take the discussion offline.

Twitter has rules too

You can read them here. In particular, users may not use Twitter to impersonate others, and Twitter has the right to reclaim user names on behalf of those who hold the legal claim or trademark of the name. Also, it is against the rules to publish other people’s private information, or to use violence or make threats. There is also a large, ever-growing list of behaviour that Twitter may consider spam.

Make the most of it

Of course, Twitter can be a very good thing for your business, a tool to engage your customers and further your brand. It’s also important that you’re a valuable part of the Twitter community – don’t just encourage people to follow you, but follow others too. 

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