A GULF exists between social media and its function as a legal publication, the Bond University Professor of Journalism, Mark Pearson, said yesterday.
"While we might be thinking in terms of a chat with mates at the pub or cafe, the reality is, of course, that we are all now publishers every time we send a witty little comment on social media," he said.
"And this carries with it all of the broader social responsibilities, both legal and moral."
Much has been said about those who flagrantly disregard public expectations of decency online, the so-called trolls or cyber bullies who deliberately incite outrage through venomous comments.
But Professor Pearson, the author of Blogging And Tweeting Without Getting Sued, said that, as with every other new technology, coming to grips with the behavioural implications associated with Twitter was something users needed to adjust to.
"Twitter and Facebook and other social media like YouTube are more often appearing as evidence in all sorts of court cases; workers compensation, family law matters, criminal matters, terrorism, security and, of course, defamation, so it is being used by the authorities," Professor Pearson said. "But people don't necessarily think about that as they send their wisecracks into cyber space."
His comments follow recent controversy over so-called trolling. The rugby league star Robbie Farah complained to the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, of highly insulting remarks about his late mother and it was then revealed Farah had posted an offensive tweet about Ms Gillard's 50th birthday.
Professor Pearson said while the large platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, could "co-operate better with the authorities" by responding more quickly to requests to take down offensive material or in deregistering the so-called trolls, people also needed to try to understand the scale these platforms operated on.
"You are talking about millions of messages sailing into the ether every minute, and just by simple mathematics many of these are going to be offensive and have repercussions for somebody, and even these large-scale US-based operators would never be able to cope with the scale of that material," he said. "So it comes back to education and personal responsibility with the authorities policing the most extreme cases of abuse."
A shift in how users thought of the medium was also needed, Associate Professor Axel Bruns from Queensland University of Technology said.
"It is a public forum, potentially a very wide public forum," he said.
"If I am saying something to a friend at the pub I don't expect that to be recorded, to be passed along because I understand my environment. In social media and most forms of online communication, in fact, what I say doesn't just disappear the moment I say it, it is there, it leaves a trace and it can be passed on.
"We are operating in an environment which feels private, but is very much public.
"Because of the fact that these technologies keep changing and we are only really exploring how we might use them, what we might use them for, we tend to come to them with our old understandings, our old metaphors.
"We are still coming at that with metaphors which are very much from face-to-face interaction, talking on the phone, or whatever, and these metaphors might make us feel very comfortable, but often they hide very important aspects of how the technology works."
So just like the September 1960 debate between the US presidential candidates John Kennedy and Richard Nixon changed the perception that television was just like radio, but with pictures, Associate Professor Bruns said we need to stop thinking about Twitter and other similar platforms as being like talking to your friends.
"We have to stop trying to squeeze them into existing ways of understanding communication," he said.
"We have to think much more about them as they really are, as they actually work, so we have to understand they are something that is not just simply public or private but something in between, so the publicness of what you say, the reach that it has, can go from going out to a handful of people who follow me to potentially a very large audience of hundreds of thousands just by someone retweeting what I am saying. That is a very different environment and I think we need to understand it as that."