Recently, The Wall Street Journal investigated whether or not prosecutors
could legally charge people who send “bogus” tweets during events like natural
disasters such as Sandy that cause public alarm and unrest.While the law has not quite
caught up to technology, there are current and relevant laws that make falsifying posts on
sites such as Twitter illegal.
In the state of New York and in many other states, it is illegal to file false
incident reports. New York law says, “A person is guilty of falsely reporting an
incident in the third degree when, knowing the information reported, conveyed or
circulated to be false or baseless” so for Twitter users, this encompasses tweets. The
questions remains what falsehoods are clearly punishable, such as perjury, lies to the government about official matters or pretending to speak on behalf of the
government and what ‘white’ lies are not punishable.
A Duke University professor, Stuart Benjamin, found that sending an
alarming tweet had almost the same effect as sending a false report or warning to
In this situation, the public relations professional becomes responsible for maintaining the citizens sense of security and the image and reputation of the government. Tweets can reach millions of users instantaneously and can be re-tweeted and shared within moments. Falsified tweets could have citizens questioning not only their safety, but
also the government’s ability to take control of events such as natural disasters. It becomes the responsibility of the public relations professional to carefully monitor feeds,
respond quickly, and to help those in charge make official statements to counteract
Have you ever tweeted falsified information or have you seen a tweet containing falsified information? Do you think the government has the right to prosecute individuals based upon tweets?
For more information visit, http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2012/11/05/is-lying-on-twitter-a-crime/.