Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Are Google groups so, like, half-an-hour ago? I'm wondering and whistling while pondering this pressing question because of the lamentable performance by members of a journalism Google group that was set up a couple of months ago. I subscribed. I asked a couple of questions. I read a few answers. Then ... No activity for ages. Zero. Zip.

The total silence is evident in the fact that I've received no notifications of updates in my Gmail account since ... Crap knows when.

In fact, I was the most frequent interlocutor. The questions I asked got a few desultory responses; then came that deafening quiet that signals complete irrelevance.

Twitter, on the other hand, seems to feed the inquisitive beast mightily. Yesterday a tweep asked a question which set up a sustained debate among three tweeps - myself included - pondering the question of legal liability on Twitter.

How do you handle retweets? Do you verify tweets before retweeting? Are you better off distancing yourself from the fact relayed in the tweet using some sort of journalistic convention, like quotes? And where does the liability lie in case of a lawsuit?

I couldn't imagine a multi-post conversation like this occuring in a Google group. The pace is slower there. Members who don't lurk are wary of exposing themselves. It just seems so permanent to lay down your words in that space. On Twitter, obversely, you throw out ideas into the stream without caring that, instead of only 50 people watching, almost 300 can see everything you post.

Twitter is a micro-blogging service. As such, I propose - to clear up the topic under discussion - that liability rests with the publisher. That means you. You're the publisher on Twitter, just as you are on your blog.

And just as with a newspaper that operates a website that accepts reader comments, all liability for posted comments rests with you. Even though you didn't write the words, because you retweet them you're enough of a part of the publishing process that you hold liability for their veracity.

So, as another participant in yesterday's tweet-discussion stated: be careful what you tweet. The only thing standing between you and insolvency is your bank balance.

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