One of the hallmarks of the American system of media is called the “social responsibility theory,” which says you can publish what you want without government interference, but you have to face the consequences of your actions.
Put on perhaps more crass terms, we tell our student journalists, “You want to play with the big kids, then you have to be treated like a big kid,” which means taking responsibility for what you publish.
As we all know, users of social media are often vitriolic, are prone to publish unsubstantiated statements and rumors, and much too often seem more interested in saying negative things about other users, rather than engaging in actual dialogue.
But now, in an interesting twist, an Occupy Wall Street protestor is challenging a court decision that ordered Twitter to turn his postings over to a New York prosecutor. He is apparently arguing that he retains possession and control of his tweets, and thus prosecutors should try to get the material from him, rather than from his service provider.
Of course, we know he will not turn the material over without a fight, so his challenge is simply a stalling technique.
Previous court cases have said that Internet Service Providers are much like a bookstore, in that they are generally not responsible for the content of material on their site. But at the same time, many social network sites claim they do with the content whatever they want.
Then there is the question of whether routine bloggers can somehow claim to be journalists, and thus have First Amendment protections for what the publish.
We’ve often said here that the law has a hard time keeping up with technology. And ever since e-mail and the Internet were developed users, providers and the government have been in constant turmoil trying to sort it all out.