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Monday, January 21, 2019

Newspaper sues Virginia Tech reporter to reclaim Twitter account

Andy Bitter Twitter

A newspaper has filed a lawsuit against one of its former reporters to reclaim a Twitter account they say belongs to them.

The Washington Post’s Rick Maese reported on Tuesday about the legal actions the Roanoke Times have taken against their former Virginia Tech reporter, Andy Bitter, who is now working for a competing publication — The Athletic. The Twitter account’s name is “AndyBitterVT,” and he is refusing to relinquish it.

The Roanoke Times asserts in their lawsuit that their employee handbook states all social media “accounts and communications on those accounts” are the property of the company that owns the newspaper, and that Bitter signed an acknowledgement of receipt of the handbook.

They also say that a previous Virginia Tech reporter started the Twitter account in question and then handed it over to Bitter, who built it up to over 27,000 followers.

Bitter has since been using the account to promote his work at The Athletic.

If that Twitter account indeed was property of the newspaper as they state, and created by the previous Virginia Tech reporter, who handed it over to Bitter, then it seems to me the account should be returned to the newspaper. There’s even an argument to be made that they should also receive damages from Bitter for the account being used to promote the competitor’s work.

Though the newspaper seems to have a good argument for having the account returned to them, they and other outlets should use this as a valuable learning lesson. They should create company-branded Twitter accounts where reporters on each beat are mandated to tweet from, and where it’s clear that the account belongs to the company, that way they avoid these controversies.

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