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Wednesday, 5 May 2010

What do a Young Liberal and an iconoclastic Melbourne columnist have in common? Well, it's the way they were treated after tweeting candidly during a TV broadcast. In Deveny's case, losing her job as The Age columnist must hit hard. Struggling Leftie journos don't have a lot of choice between gigs in our thin economy. In Sowdon's case, being expelled from his political party must hit hard, too.

Sowdon hit the headlines three weeks ago when his tweets about Barack Obama - interviewed in Washington by the ABC's Kerry O'Brien - being a "monkey" were "taken out of context" as they had been meant as "a joke between friends".

Deveny, surprisingly, also sought refuge in the 'out of context' defense, according to the Herald-Sun:

"It was just passing notes in class, but suddenly these notes are being projected into the sky and taken out of context," she told The Age.

"This [the Bindi Irwin comment] was a ludicrous remark that was as ridiculous as me saying I hope the dog that Molly Meldrum brought with him got drunk,'' she said.

The disconnect between the reality of Twitter - a global publishing engine - and some people's "take" on how it "should work" is astonishing. Sowdon responded in a similarly bemused manner to Deveny when confronted by his actions:

"I think the people follow me know (it's a joke) and the people who are my friends know and the people on Twitter don't unfortunately," he said. "I don't think Obama is a monkey. You can't be a monkey and be President of the United States." When asked if he'd apologise, he said: "Yes, sure, why not."

Well, Deveny is a tad more self-conscious than her younger peer. But the sense of "what's all the fuss about" is identical.

Unlike in Facebook, where you can choose to keep posts within a select group of people, Twitter is a global publishing engine. If a friend retweets your tweet it automatically gets spread to all the people following them. If one of those people retweets it, the affected circle expands.

Simply, once you tweet you have no control over who will see the post.

As the service becomes more-widely adopted, legal issues will proliferate. There will be cases with even more serious consequences than in these two. Someone will be taken to court with a defamation action hanging over their head. It's just a matter of time.

Pic credit: Herald-Sun.

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