Many and more official organizations are creating twitter accounts and developing groups of followers. Ostensibly, for these official parties the reasoning is to keep citizens apprised of important information. An amusing and oft seen example is the Boston Police with their ‘Injured Officer’ post that has now become somewhat of a meme. See below.
Public official organization disseminating information to the public quickly and efficiently?… that almost sounds like the Freedom of Information response process. The Information Commissioner’s Office thought so too. ICO contacted the UK Supreme Court to remind them of the guidance issued last year, specifically that:
“Public authorities that use Twitter and other social networking sites must recognise that, like any other communication channel, they can be used to submit freedom of information requests provided the requester includes their real name, an address for correspondence and a description of the information requested,” the ICO spokesman said.
Within only a few hours @UKSupremeCourt tweeted to amend their policy to accept FOI requests:
That being said, clearly Twitter is not designed to handle the breadth and depth required for your typical FOI request. A standard request form in the UK is a nine page document; easily dwarfing the 140 character limitations of Twitter. Still, under pressure from the ICO and publicservice.co.uk, @UKSupremeCourt will be accepting FOI requests provided that 140 characters is indeed enough “to sufficiently describe the information that the requester is seeking that the court can find it in a timely manner.”
Moreover, a response to such requests, per ICO guidance “is that we [@UKSupremeCourt] upload full FOI response (following a valid request) to our website and tweet user a link.” It appears as if the simple act of creating a twi
tter account may have completely altered the way the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court receives and responds to FOIs. They have, however, noted that the tweeters use the policy responsibly and remember the potential costs associated with FOI requests.
So, Tweet at your own risk, your FOI tweet could cost you £25 per man hour required to respond. The United Kingdom’s Supreme Court may have inadvertently amended its practice and policies regarding FOI and Twitter, but don’t you inadvertently charge up fees for your tweet. The days of ‘harmless’ tweeting may be over.