For employers, it is becoming more and more common to check the online activities of employees and job applicants. Employers still need to be careful about employee privacy, but a recent ruling of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) suggests that publicly accessible Twitter messages are not private.

Ms Sarah Baskerville, who was employed by the Department of Transport used her twitter account to comment on her feelings about her employer and her job. The Daily Mail ran a story ‘Oh please, stop this twit from Tweeting, someone’ and Ms Baskerville complained to the PCC. She argued that her Twitter account and her other online activities were private and the story was misleading.

The PCC didn’t uphold her complaint. Ms Baskerville’s tweets were publicly accessible; she had not limited them to the people who were ‘following’ her on Twitter (though she has now). Also, anyone could ‘re-tweet’ her posts to their subscribers without her consent or control. The Commission felt that this meant her tweets were public.

The lesson for employees is ‘watch what you tweet’ and if you do use social media, consider using the privacy settings as well. For employers, the PCC ruling suggests that information publicly accessible on social media is in the public domain and can be considered.

Of course, each situation will be different, and employers still need to be careful about privacy of employees and how they access and use social media information. But employees and job applicants can no longer assume that they have a right to prevent their employers from considering such information.