So, some of y’all might have seen several instances of brouhaha the past several days over tweets being copied, embedded, and generally used by other people. Some of the more contentious examples stem from people publicly posting harassment tweets on their own accounts (and not blanking out the original tweeters’ names).
There has been much hand-wringing in response to this, so I wanted to take this time to go over a few helpful reminders about Twitter.
Does Twitter Own Your Tweets?
No! They don’t! Twitter very clearly states that your original tweets can be protected by copyright. This is pretty handy for when people want to try to take your content and monetize it for themselves. If you make an awesome original tweet that becomes popular, you’re protected from companies deciding they want to take that text/image and slap it onto merchandise and sell it.
This does not, however, mean you can prevent anyone online from taking your public tweets and posting them wherever they like because…
The Twitter Terms of Service Say They Can
As per the Terms of Service that most of us probably just clicked through when signing up for an account:
By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods now known or later developed (for clarity, these rights include, for example, curating, transforming, and translating). This license authorizes us to make your Content available to the rest of the world and to let others do the same. You agree that this license includes the right for Twitter to provide, promote, and improve the Services and to make Content submitted to or through the Services available to other companies, organizations or individuals for the syndication, broadcast, distribution, Retweet, promotion or publication of such Content on other media and services, subject to our terms and conditions for such Content use. Such additional uses by Twitter, or other companies, organizations or individuals, is made with no compensation paid to you with respect to the Content that you submit, post, transmit or otherwise make available through the Services as the use of the Services by you is hereby agreed as being sufficient compensation for the Content and grant of rights herein.
What this boils down to is that while other people can’t monetize your original content without your consent, the Terms of Service that you agreed to in order to start your account allow for anyone to retweet, embed, or quote your tweets. The only way to prevent someone from doing this is to delete your tweet. However, they aren’t allowed to do this without using Twitter’s tools.
So That Means They Can’t Use My Tweets in a Video?
Again, not necessarily. Fair Use allows room for people to use said tweets for either newsworthy stories, or for commentary. If Donald Trump makes a tweet and then deletes it, it falls under Fair Use for reporters to take existing screenshots of his previous tweets to report on them. Or, if someone takes a copy of your tweet and uses it as commentary, they can also be protected under Fair Use.
What Do I Do Then?
As fun as Twitter is to engage with your communities, always, always, always remember that this is still a public platform. What you are tweeting out is available for public consumption and unless you have your account set to private, you have no control over who can see your tweets. This means that you are also subject to any reactions or consequences for having written said tweets.
Also, just, don’t use Twitter to send hate tweets to people, yeah? By doing so, all you have to protect you from them publicly calling you out for harassing them is the assumption that they either won’t see it (wrong), or legally can’t respond to you (doubly WRONG). A good rule of thumb I personally advocate is “Would you be comfortable if a future employer pulled up your Twitter account in front of you and started reading them?” And remember that when you have that itch to be mean, there’s a real human being on the other side of the screen you’re tweeting at. Your tweet isn’t going out into the cold internet ether. A person who has thoughts and feelings and their own struggles is going to see it.
Social media can be a powerful tool to help unite fandoms in our undying nerdery of everything we love. But like all tools, they can be misused. Let’s try to resolve for 2020 to use those tools for good.