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PCC rules Twitter messages are not private

Journalists who republish Twitter messages in newspaper articles are not breaching privacy, according to the first ruling of its kind from the Press Complaints Commission.

The PCC has published the findings of the first complaint it has dealt with about whether information posted on the social networking site can be described as private information.

It ruled articles in two national newspapers about the Twitter messages of a civil servant did not breach the privacy clause of the Editors’ Code of Practice, in a move which could have implications for journalists across the country.

In its decision, the PCC said the publicly-accessible nature of the information was a “key consideration” and the potential audience for this was much larger than the 700 people who followed the complainant directly because it could be retweeted.

The complaint to the press watchdog was made by Sarah Baskerville, a civil servant working for the Department of Transport, after articles were published in the Daily Mail and Independent on Sunday in November.

They described how she used Twitter to describe aspects of her job and her feelings towards her work, including calling the leader of a course she was doing as “mental” and saying that she was “struggling with a wine-induced hangover”, while some of them were political in nature.

Ms Baskerville complained to the PCC saying she had a “reasonable expectation” that her messages would only be published to her 700 followers and she had included a disclaimer on her Twitter account that the views expressed were personal ones.

But the Commission said there had not been “an unjustifiable intrusion” into the complainant’s privacy and took into account the type of information which had been published by the newspapers, which related directly to her professional life.

PCC director Stephen Abell 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 judgements about what can legitimately be described as private information.”