This article was published on May 25, 2011

[Update] Twitter’s European boss says users ‘are on their own’ if they break the law

[Update] Twitter’s European boss says users ‘are on their own’ if they break the law

In his first week as Twitter’s first Europe-based employee, Tony Wang has stated that any Twitter user prosecuted for something they tweet would be “on their own” against the legal system, and that Twitter would hand over personal information on users to the authorities if they were legally required to.

This follows from the revelation that Twitter was being sued by a UK footballer for enabling users to break a court-issued super injunction by revealing the identity of the footballer.

Wang said that Twitter would:

“Let them (Twitter users) exercise their own legal rights under their own jurisdiction, whether that is a motion to quash the order or to oppose it or do a number of other things to defend themselves.”

The question was asked by the BBC at the e-G8 forum in Paris, and his response perhaps isn’t overly surprising given that Twitter is looking to stay on the right side of the law as it grows its operations around the world.

But this perhaps raises more questions about the UK legal system than it does about Twitter’s stance. Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, went so far as to compare the UK’s super injunctions to “the Chinese situation where they also cover up misdeeds of high ranking people,”, before going on to say that the US wouldn’t be able to instigate similar laws given the freedom of speech provisions in the constitution.

Whilst Twitter will have to obey the laws of any country it operates in, as a global platform that transcends countries and laws, it really is difficult to see how tweets shared between users across the world can come under the jurisdiction of a single local court.


Tony Wang has stated that his comments were taken out of context in the original BBC report. He says in two follow-up tweets:

“Twitter values user privacy and protects users right to a defense. Shocked by BBC article. To the extent we can, we give users notice of requests [for personal data from lawyers] so they have opportunity to defend themselves. BBC construed that very irresponsibly.”


And Sean Garrett, VP of Communications at Twitter, also backed Tony Wang by saying: “Tony’s words taken completely out of context by BBC”, before continuing: “Very disappointing coverage of eG8 panel with Tony Wang by BBC”.

It seems that other first-hand accounts confirm that Wang was merely saying that open expression on the Internet should be part of  a human rights framework.