Twitter and Compliance

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I was struck recently by the power and misconceptions around Twitter, the current press darling of Web 2.0. On one side is the enormous power of Twitter to crowdsource the news. The fallout of the Iran elections was better covered on Twitter than the mainstream media. At one point I watched CNN only to see the anchors reading from Twitter and displaying images posted to Twitter applications.

On the other side is the misconception that Twitter communications are not regulated by the SEC or FINRA. Everyone can acknowledge that the regulations have not caught up with the current tools of web 2.0. But the existing rules were drafted broad enough to cover all electronic communication. Twitter is clearly electronic communication.

Last week at at Jeff Pulver’s 140 Characters Conference in New York an attendee said “Twitter allows us to say f— you to the SEC!”  Earlier this week there was a quote in Forbes.com that “Since brokers have to save instant messages and e-mail, but thus far have no such mandate for tweets….”

The SEC and FINRA may have more pressing issues on its hands, but the existing rules cover the use of Twitter. Sure the rules could be more explicit. But ignore them at your peril.

If you are a registered representative, you should take a look at FINRA’s Guide to the Internet.  The features of Twitter could be considered an advertisement, sales literature, or correspondence. The direct message feature is correspondence. If your Twitter feed is unprotected, each twitter post would be considered an advertisement. If your Twitter feed is protected it would be considered sales literature.

The SEC’s Guidance on the use of web sites (SEC Release 34-58288) does not give the clearest guidance. But it is clear that the rules are independent of the platform and the technology.

Insider trading, wrongful public disclosure and fraud and prohibited regardless of the communication tool. That includes Twitter.

Companies that have to monitor electronic communications should add Twitter to the mix. As the Iran election showed us, blocking access is ineffective. You should adopt a policy for Twitter or a revise your existing policies to specifically include it.  Twitter has become too popular and powerful as a tool to ignore.

Thanks to Alex Howard of Digiphile and SearchCompliance.com for pointing out both stories.

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