Presently there are approximately 330 million active Twitter users around the world1 and about 500 million tweets on average are sent by them per day.2 There is also a significant number of Twitter users in Bangladesh. In spite of its use as a social media platform, it can attract legal consequences as well. Although the legal basis or bindingness of Twitter remains an ambiguous area, there have been occasions where a single tweet gave rise to legal disputes.
Twitter use may bring about legal claim against a user in several manners. Defamation has been the most common ground in this regard. However, there are more ways that Twitter may bind a person legally, such as statements rendering a contractual agreement via tweets, impersonating a person by creating a fake account with their names etc. Nevertheless, the laws regulating the liability of a person's activities on Twitter are still in an adolescent stage as it is developing and growing with time and unprecedented events and disputes that are coming its way.
In 2018, a tweet by the American hiphop artist Kanye West took an interesting turn when he made a statement via Twitter that his next album was going to be released on only Tidal, a music streaming platform and would not be available on iTunes. As a result, the number of subscribers of Tidal increased significantly. Nevertheless, the album was released on Spotify and iTunes alongside Tidal. Hence, some of the people who subscribed to Tidal relying on the tweet by Kanye West sued him for fraudulent inducement.3
Another interesting development regarding Twitter is the case of Knight First Amendment Institute v. Trump. The plaintiffs in this this case were a group of seven Twitter users who were blocked by U.S. President Donald Trump's personal Twitter account. The plaintiffs' argument was that the Twitter account of the U.S. President constitutes a public forum.4 Therefore, blocking their access to such forum tantamounts to the violation of their First Amendment rights which ensures citizens' right to freedom of expression. The Federal District Court ruled in favour of the plaintiffs which was affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The Appellate Court held that "once the President has chosen a platform and opened up its interactive space to millions of users and participants, he may not selectively exclude those whose views he disagrees with".
In 2015, Arun Jaitley, the then Finance Minister of India had filed a defamatory lawsuit5 against the leader of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Arvind Kejriwal and several other leaders under section 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code on the basis of a tweet alleging that Arun Jaitley was involved in corruption in relation to the affairs of Delhi and District Cricket Association, the governing body of Cricket activities in the Delhi state of India and the Delhi cricket team. The question dealt by the Court was whether a retweet can amount to defamation. Despite the suit being dismissed, it gives rise to an important question as to the legal bindingness of tweets and retweets on Twitter.
Bangladesh has introduced the Digital Security Act 2018 ("DSA 2018") that governs among others, the laws regarding the use of social platforms such as Twitter, Facebook etc. However, the focus of this Act revolves around publication or broadcasting of statements, information that may aggravate the communal harmony or go against the spirit of the nation. DSA 2018 also addresses fraudulent offences, derogatory statements amounting to defamation that may take place via digital platforms. Nonetheless, DSA 2018 falls behind in making provisions that could address complex issues such as commercial consequences and other liabilities that may arise from the use of social media platforms like Twitter.
It is apparent that the DSA 2018 covers a broad area in terms of usage and application of digital platforms. The enactment of the DSA 2018 added to the weight that activities and publications used to have prior to the enforcement of this Act. Therefore, in light of the DSA 2018, the legal bindingness of social platforms has been reshaped and attained severity in some particular areas of law that extends to Twitter as well. However, there are many aspects that may require attention of the legislature as social platforms like Twitter are taking over a significant portion of both our social and commercial lives.
1. https://www.statista.com/statistics/303681/twitterusers-worldwide/ (as of 20.01.2020)
2. https://www.oberlo.com/blog/twitter-statistics (as of 20.01.2020)
3. https://www.independent.co.uk/artsentertainment/music/news/kanye-west-fan-sues-rapperand-tidal-over-the-life-of-pablo-exclusivity-tricka6990656.html (as of 20.01.2020)
4. https://knightcolumbia.org/cases/knight-institute-vtrump (as of 20.01.2020)
5. CS (OS) 3457/2015
Originally Published 2 February 2020
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.