UK politicians are now legally required to answer a Freedom of Information (FoI) request made via Twitter, on Twitter. That means that if documents, clarification on a statement, or any other information is requested by a journalist or citizen on Twitter, public officials must respond within a reasonable period of time, on Twitter itself.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) addressed Twitter in its July 2011 newsletter, according to The Register, and said that Twitter may not be the ideal channel for FoI requests, but that this “does not mean that requests sent using Twitter are necessarily invalid”.
This now means that anyone who sends a politician or public figure a request for information on Twitter using the @mention of their username can expect a response within 20 working days.
However, because of Twitter’s 140 character limit, the IOC explained that public figures should respond via email or a document on a website, with a tweet explaining where to access the full information.
Of course, not all public officials are on Twitter. An IOC spokesperson told The Register that if a public figure has chosen to engage with the community on Twitter, it is his or her responsibility to fulfill FoI requests through the medium:
“Public authorities that proactively use Twitter as a channel to communicate with their audience must recognise that it is a two-way conversation, and that information requests can therefore legitimately be made.”
And, in order to protect politicians from being blasted with FoI tweets, the IOC has underlined section 14 of the Freedom of Information Act, which states that a request which is repeated unnecessarily, or seen as harassment or obsessive, need not be replied to.