Social Media Revisited. Again and Again.

In response to the appalling riots in the United Kingdom this week came news that David Cameron plans a crackdown on social media. While it’s unclear exactly what steps are planned, it seems that the goal is to prevent certain illicit-themed communications on services such as BBM, Twitter and Facebook. The British government argues that while social media can be a force of great democratic good, as seen in the “Arab Spring” uprising, it can also be used to undermine authority and to plot criminal activity.

On the flipside, a court in Indiana just handed down its judgment against a school that took punitive actions against students who had posted sexually suggestive photos on their MySpace pages, in contravention of the school’s code of conduct. The court held that the school’s actions constituted a breach of the student’s rights of freedom of expression.

While our work usually centers around social media as it relates to business (in general) and the workplace (in particular), the caselaw on these emerging technologies is being pieced together from areas as disparate as those mentioned above.

The rapid changes in technology and the courts’ race to keep up makes it incredibly difficult for lawyers to give good advice to businesses on how social media issues should be handled. Add to that, the convergence of privacy issues and the emergence of cybercrime, and you’ve got a difficulty multiplier that make it even harder to offer helpful guidance.

That said, there are some certainties and there are many best practices that help to minimize risks to businesses in terms of litigation exposure, as well as actual loss. The thing is, they’re very closely related to the business you do, and how you do it. There are no broad, sweeping, effective strategies in this area.
We have written before about our advice to clients with respect to having solid, workplace-appropriate technology-use policies in place, as well as appropriate security and other safeguards, and we will continue to do so. But just as we continue to advise clients to think about these issues, we are constantly thinking about them, the courts are constantly thinking about them, and the technology and social media landscapes are evolving. As such, the “best” best practice is one of constant review.

Ask yourself if the policies and practices you have in place are working for your business? Are they current? Are they cost effective? Do they address emerging uses of technology? Have they been vetted by experienced professionals including lawyers and information technology security experts? And more importantly than many business-owners seem to realize, do they address the practical realities of how social media technologies are used by my employees?

If you have any questions about your social media policy please contact us.

Scott R. Young