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This article was published on January 20, 2012

Politician’s potentially incriminating conversation is live-tweeted by a reporter on a train

Politician’s potentially incriminating conversation is live-tweeted by a reporter on a train

Back in November, the Interwebs were all abuzz with Andy Boyle’s decision to live-tweet a young couple’s breakup in Burger King. Many saw it as an invasion of privacy, particularly when Boyle began posting photos of the couple in question.

Today, Poynter shares the story of a California councilwoman, Michele Martinez, who found herself in a similar situation. A reporter, Bob Salladay, from California Watch overheard a telephone conversation she was having on a train, and proceed to tweet what he heard.

Salladay shared what Martinez was speaking about, saying that she was “talking loudly on her cell phone.” After sharing what she had said, he ended the series of four tweets saying that he was “99% sure it was Michele Martinez.”

When Martinez caught wind of the tweets, according to the Orange County Register, she sent out a statement, lashing out at Salladay’s decision:

“I don’t know what’s worse; someone secretly listening to a private conversation without consent or misrepresenting that conversation publicly. It’s disrespectful, dishonest and downright creepy.”

Salladay was quick to fire back, tweeting:

With all due respect to Martinez, he’s right. The Next Web’s Paul Sawers has already taken an in-depth look in how smartphones are changing the way that people behave in public, and Martinez’s story is another painful reminder of why that is the case.

The tweets are potentially incriminating for Martinez because they reveal the fact that she is working on an independent expenditure (IE), or in other words, working on spending on behalf of a candidate without their coordination or involvement.

According to Salladay’s tweets the IE is being coordinated with the candidates, and this could lead to an investigation. It’s surprising that Martinez would be having a confidential conversation of this nature in public, dropping names left, right and centre.

While Boyle may have crossed a line by taking a photo of the now infamous Burger King couple, Salladay simply recounted a conversation he overheard in a public space.

Smartphones give their users an immediate outlet to publish content that is available in a public space. When that user is a journalist, is there a certain ethical standard that should be applied?

Martinez was speaking on a phone, and if Salladay’s description is accurate, hearing what she said was unavoidable. Tweeting the conversation was of course a conscious choice on his part.

While Martinez has not denied the statements that she made, the story could have easily devolved into a he said-she said affair. This also doesn’t take into account how easy it is for a Twitter rumour to take on a life of its own.

Salladay’s ‘eavestweets’ once again bring into question whether or not there’s a line we shouldn’t cross when sharing what is happening around us, while shedding light on the fact that, thanks to the ever present smartphone, you’re always a tweet, photo or video away, from public embarrassment.

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