Twitter is the Pub

March 15th, 2013 by Dylan Leave a reply »

Here I am, again, writing about issues that stemmed from the social media strategy of local startup MyFoodBag. I wasn’t going to write any more about it – I’ve written two posts here, traded more than 100 tweets about it and I even talked about it on Discourse for about 20 minutes (all without receiving any free food, I might add).

I wasn’t going to write any more about it, but then one of the people I was trading tweets with on Monday night decided to. And he wrote about it in the country’s most widely read newspaper and anonymously paraphrased (incorrectly) a tweet of mine as the main thrust of his three paragraphs on the issue.

I got caught up this week in a Twitter debate about the rights and wrongs of media tweeting plugs for free meals, and whether these plugs should attract the #ad hashtag which identifies them as advertising.

One tweeter believed legal obligations that affect publishers, such as the laws of libel, could not apply and that social media was akin to people having a chat over a beer at the pub. But given that that person had more than 3100 followers, you would have to say the pub conversation would have to be held at a big booze barn.

If tweeters are confident they are outside the law and have views about the ethics of wealthy businessmen they could test out the theory by letting rip online.

– John Drinnan, NZ Herald, 15 March 2013


I am one tweeter in the above. I say the paraphrasing was incorrect because I didn’t suggest anything of the sort about lack of legal liability. In fact I said precisely the opposite – it’s hard to follow given the back and forth of it, but this was my tweet in reply to Drinnan’s suggestion that a making a negative statement about someone would test whether Twitter was ‘publishing’…

My point there was that it clearly was actionable but that Damian Christie’s tweets were his responsibility not his employer’s. And while there are laws about libel that apply to Twitter, I’m not aware of any that would affect someone’s ability to speak about a product they are using (for free or otherwise).

Anyway, here is the pub comment in question – I was suggesting that statements on Twitter were more akin to talking to friends than they were to ‘publishing’ in the sense that we understand it. Even in the days before the internet if a journalist got a product or service to review he was likely to tell his mates in the pub about it.

In this respect I think Twitter is the Pub. The things we communicate on Twitter, even celebrities, are effectively things we’re saying to our friends. There are legitimate publications on Twitter that would possibly be held to a higher standard, but overall I think the important thing in making these judgements is the context of the person’s Twitter stream. All the people who tweeted about #MyFoodBag on Monday night are genuine people using Twitter in a personal way that includes frequently tweeting about things they are using/doing/seeing/eating/watching.

The number of people I’m addressing on Twitter does not change the way I use it. The things I say on Twitter are very similar in content and tone to the things I would say in person with a few friends in a bar. They are, however, public and archived so they do potentially make me more likely to face legal liability for my comments in certain cases – but tweeting about something someone gave me is not one of those cases as far as I am concerned. The same, I assume, is true of all the people who chose to tweet about the bag of free food they received this week.

Of course I much more clearly outlined by various thoughts about Twitter marketing and the My Food Bag tweets specifically in subsequent posts here which I believe John Drinnan saw, but he still chose to paraphrase my position very oddly, although it was anonymous so I guess he’s safe from the laws of libel 🙂

A clear lesson from all this is that Twitter is a crappy place to have a debate. It’s hard to clearly make points and it’s even harder to know if other people are interpreting them correctly. But of course we’ll keep doing it because, a lot like the pub, it’s a great place for sharing and challenging opinions and ideas.

  • Alastair Thompson

    Hi Dylan,

    FWIW I think twitter is a glorious place to have a debate. And a place where doing so works remarkably well. I expect John Drinnan also thinks that, but don’t know. Its an interesting question.

    I disagree with Deborah Pead and Stop Press and Russell Brown that #ad tag should not have been used in this case. An inducement is an inducement – gift or not. That said I don’t feel that inclined to debate it ATM. Too much else to write about 🙂

    At Scoop we started using #ad with our @scooptechlab activity before Christmas and we intend to continue to do so. At times you do forget however and it would be very hard and a bit stultifying to make contributors do so. Deborah Pead herself possibly ought to have used it on some of her MFB tweets and may have done so.

    One thing for certain the debate on this question is far from over.

    I have taken to using #notanad tags for tweets that look like #ads but which aren’t.

    And either way the cookie crumbles at the ASA in the long run – the “Tweetnami” incident which you have usefully reported on in this series of blogs has given us a very nice working example to debate the next time the issue arises.

    Alastair Thompson

    P.S. What TV program do you work for? Read your lengthy response to Cate Owen.

    • Dylan

      Thanks Alastair,

      As far as I can tell the ASA seems to be quite specific that #ad is for “paid” tweet. I’m not sure anyone is actually paying for tweets in NZ, but it’s possible I guess. In general I think as long as there isn’t a pre-arranged expectation of promotion or, especially, an agreement about the nature of that promotion this is just run of the mill PR/marketing – give things to people you think will like them and hope they talk about them.

      Perhaps this is all a bit like pornography, we know it when we see it? None of the tweets I saw felt especially “addy” to me.

      As for the TV show – well that would be telling, but a little Googling will probably reveal, I have done a reasonable bit of publicity around it and I’m the most prolific Dylan Reeve on the internet 🙂

      • Alastair Thompson

        Listening to Mediawatch program and the comments from the ASA person we discover that unless someone complains about #myfoodbag they won’t decide what they think it means.

        I think its a bit simplistic to suggest we will know what it looks like when we see it. I thought most of the #myfoodbag tweets looked addy, that’s why we had a controversy.