Judge orders release of Occupy protester’s tweets; How Twitter and social media are furthering investigative journalism
By Whitney Evans | July 2nd, 2012
In another foray into the ongoing social media v. privacy debates, a New York judge ordered Twitter to release tweets from a former Occupy Wall Street protester.
Malcom Harris was arrested in October 2011 — with hundreds of other protesters — and charged with disorderly conduct. In January, prosecutors subpoenaed tweets from Harris from just before the Occupy protests through 2011. Harris’ attorney unsuccessfully tried to block the subpoena. When Judge Matthew A. Sciarrino ruled against the attorney’s motion, Twitter tried to quash the subpoena. However, Sciarrino disagreed. Although privacy laws exist, Harris’ tweets were publicly shared and as such did not qualify for privacy protections.
“What you give to the public belongs to the public. What you keep to yourself belongs only to you.” – Judge Matthew A. Sciarrino
Bottom line: While privacy laws protect information gathered by journalists in some cases, sharing information on a public platform like Twitter snuffs any privacy protection.
However, don’t entirely dismiss Twitter and its social media allies — Foursquare, Facebook, Flickr and others. These platforms are expanding the role of freedom of information in unprecedented ways, reports Mashable. To name a few:
- Reduce Reading Time: Journalists who once had to slog through thousands of documents to find relevant information can now crowdsource. In other words, they can use followers and readers to help scan documents for relevant bits of information. See how TPM Muckraker and The Guardian have utilized their readers.
- Man on the Street: Journalists can share a Google Map to help with stories on extreme weather patterns, fires or in one instance, to help government officials locate the source of an unusual smell.
- Investigative Teamwork: Journalists who want to investigate stories more quickly may think about following Wendy Norris’ lead. Norris set out to confirm or deny the rumor that condom purchases in Colorado had been negatively affected by their placement in stores, at the time purportedly under lock and key behind pharmacy counters. She used Twitter to recruit members of her community to help with the investigation. Once the results were in, she used Google Maps to share the results.
Click here to learn on how you can use social media with your investigations.
Whitney is the summer Pulliam/Killgore intern with SPJ. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University after studying journalism. Connect with her via email – email@example.com – or on twitter – @whitevs7
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