Posts Tagged ‘Facebook’

Judge orders release of Occupy protester’s tweets; How Twitter and social media are furthering investigative journalism

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.

Read up on federal privacy laws. Also, see how privacy laws affect student journalists.

Whitney is the summer Pulliam/Killgore intern with SPJ. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University after studying journalism. Connect with her via email – –  or on twitter – @whitevs7

*Know something about Freedom of Information that you think we should cover in a blog post? We want to hear from you! Send information to It may be featured in a future post.

FOI Tip of the Week: New open government podcast provides great transparency updates

“OG Pod,” a new open-government podcast focused on transparency issues in Washington, is available for listeners to access online.

The program provides advice for people searching for certain public records or planning to attend various government meetings. It will include rundowns on developments in the courts, legislature and media regarding transparency issues.

For those who need advice on the nitty gritty details of the Open Public Meetings Act or Public Records Act, this podcast will dish out plenty of helpful tips.

The Freedom Foundation and Greg Overstreet of Allied Law Group, which specializes in open government legal matters, host OG Pod. Its author is Michael Reitz, who serves as General Counsel of the Freedom Foundation and is the director of its Constitutional Law Center.

Listeners can access the podcasts from iTunes and Facebook as well.

– Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins is SPJ’s summer Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and a University of Florida student. Reach her by email ( or connect with her on Twitter (@morganwatkins26).



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