I subscribe to a mailing list on United Kingdom Freedom of Information issues. Ironically, it doesn’t seem to have public archives, so I’m not going to name it here, and the quotes below are therefore anonymised.
One of the regular participants recently posted this:
The just published ICO newsletter contains the following :
The ICO has also been asked whether a request in a tweet that only refers to an authority in an @mention, for example @ICOnews, is really directed to and received by that authority. The ICO’s view is that it is. Twitter allows the authority to check for @mentions of itself, and so it has in effect received that request, even though it was not sent directly to the authority like an email or letter.
Which has led to a series of comments and questions, which I’ve read with a growing sense of disbelief. Some are shown below, with my replies:
- Does that mean that an FOI request pinned to a public notice board in a library has been received as we can check that just as easily as an @mention? What about letters to the local rag ? Is there a logical difference here?
- Yes; there is a logical difference. The council chooses to operate a Twitter account, thereby creating a reasonable expectation that it will communicate via that channel.
- How on Earth do you respond in 140 characters or fewer?
- You post the response on your website, and tweet the URL.
- How long would @mentions be stored on an authority’s feed?
- Irrelevant. They’re permanently on Twitter.com — all you need to do is to bookmark them.
- What happens if Twitter suddenly implodes and you no longer have access to it?
- In the unlikely event that Twitter permanently disappears in the 28 days you have in which to reply, you’d reaonably be able to say that you were prevented from replying. How much money do you want to put on that happening?
- Most users will have a [pseudonym] type user name […] so couldn’t it be argued in the majority of cases that they have not provided their name and the request isn’t valid anyway?
- A request is not invalid just because a pseudonym (a uniquely identifying pseudonym) is used.
- Why stop at Twitter? There are a myriad of different social media on the web.
- Indeed. And FoI requests addressed to an eligible organisation’s self-created presence on them should be answered, as they would if received by e-mail or post.
It would be nice to see FoI officers in councils, universities and other public bodies discussing innovative ways in which to make information available, rather than finding reasons not to.
Image credit: Deutsche Fotothek via Wikimedia Commons, under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany.