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Can your employer own your twitter account?

June 30, 2010

Jeremy, from Credit Card Daily, raised a very interesting question in his recent article, on whether our ex Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, still owned his Twitter account @KevinRuddPM even though he is no longer the PM? The implication is that perhaps the Australian Federal Government (his employer) or the Labor Party might claim some ownership.

This is an interesting question – could there be a situation where the employer has ownership over a Twitter account? What are those situations and what is the resulting advice over managing ownership of Twitter accounts?

Now I just want to emphasize that I am not lawyer, so this is not legal advice (obligatory disclaimer), however as I do work for a law firm I have access to some pretty good legal minds so I asked around and though the answers seem quite obvious they do emphasize the importance of how you name your Twitter accounts.

In essence, if your Twitter handle is in your personal name ie @vstorey, then your employer could have little substance in a claim to any ownership of the account. If, however, your Twitter handle references your employer in any way ie @VivBlandsLaw then the company may have some legitimate claim to ownership.

So what are the implications inthe way you name your Twitter handle? Well, it’s fairly straight forward. If you are an employer that wants to retain a Twitter account around the movement of employees in and out of the company, make sure your employees tweet under Twitter handles that reference your company. Different companies handle this in different ways; for example, some use a single twitter account that gives multiple access to employees who sign off on their tweets using their initials. Understand that even if your employees are tweeting on behalf of the company but using personal Twitter handles they will be able to continue using this Twitter handle even after they have left the company.

If you are worried about retention of intellectual property, remember that Twitter is highly public; you can easily see who anyone is following and conversely, who is following them. You might want to make sure your restrictive clauses in your employment contracts include a direct reference to solicitation via social media. This to ensure that ex-employees are not using their Twitter accounts to solicit for competing business post employment.

Ideally, the naming of Twitter handles should be covered in a companies social media policy that employees are aware of. There should be some known protocol and procedures in developing any social media naming conventions, most especially around including company names.

Thoughts?? Our solicitors are requesting some test cases please!

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5 Comments
  1. Good post.

    There was a similar discussion late last year, surrounding journalists and their Twitter accounts. Journalists who tweet are often followed for the media outlet they represent, while others will be followed because of their own personal standing and profile.
    There’s a debate on Mumbrella here: http://mumbrella.com.au/should-journos-have-their-twitter-profiles-taken-from-them-if-they-change-job-13600

  2. This is an interesting topic, and goes hand-in-hand with the question of privacy, too.

    There have been a number of instances (not all publicly-know) of journos being fired for the content of their tweets – even if their account is not named for their employer and they were tweeting on their own time.

    This may not be a breach of privacy in the traditional Australian sense (which is very limited, anyway), but I do think it raises important questions about personhood and how we choose to represent ourselves to the world.

    Company knowledge about your private life is one thing, but acting on it is another.

    • Hi Alex, agree that the question of the boundaries of privacy is interesting. Re the journos, interestingly the Washington Post has basically stated in it’s social media policy that by the very nature of the job, a Washington Post journo is always a Washington Post journo; whether they are tweeting in their own time or for the Post.

      To me the question of personhood is becoming really blury; it used to be that we could get into a suit and go to work, be professional at work and collapse into our trakkies at home and relax. These days with all of our personal and work boundaries blurring, it’s not so easy to make the distinction.

  3. I blog likewise and I am authoring something
    similar to this excellent posting, “Can your employer own your twitter account?
    My Social Media Policy”. Will you care if perhaps Iutilise a few of your
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    • Sorry for late response – summer holidays down under in Australia :-) Happy for you to use my content with attribution.

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