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The Social Media Revolution: Don't Overlook Legal Risks

After already scoring four Golden Globe Awards earlier this month, “The Social  Network,” a movie about the founders of Facebook, just received eight Oscar nods.  All the media buzz surrounding this week’s Oscar nominations – or more specifically, the buzz surrounding this movie – inspires me to make a couple points about social media and the law. 

First, all the excitement over this movie further illustrates that social media has become a truly colossal cultural phenomenon.  Our understanding of the Internet has truly shifted.  What was once thought of as a mere repository of information is now considered an interactive tool.  This idea of the Internet as interactive is sometimes referred to as “Web 2.0” – a term representing this changing trend in the way the Internet is used. 

But I would go even further.  Social media has changed more than just the way we understand the Internet.  As I have said time and again, social media – or perhaps Web 2.0 more broadly – has changed the way we understand information, technology and interaction in general.  Because Web 2.0 has introduced such fundamental changes, it’s necessarily influencing us in our personal lives and in our professional lives.

Companies are finding new and creative ways to use technology and social media to benefit business.  For some reason, however, many of these companies forget to keep an eye out for the potential risks that accompany each of those benefits.  The legal risks may arise out of countless factual scenarios, and may fall anywhere within a continuum of various areas of law, as well.  Just one area of law for business owners to consider:  employment law. 

The ability to be “connected” 24/7 means it’s easier for employees’ personal lives and work lives to become much more intertwined.  Many of us have used technology during the work day for personal reasons and/or have used technology on our personal time for work reasons.  Maybe you log on to Facebook via your desktop at the office to let your son know you’ll be late for dinner.  Maybe you get home and realize you forgot to check on a customer file, and use your personal laptop to remotely log into your online directory at work.  Whatever the case may be, there’s no doubt the ever-changing role of technology has led to a “spillover” between social-versus-professional realities.  The blurred lines created or exacerbated by technology have led to an environment that often poses new, different or changing risks to businesses in many different ways – including as employers, specifically.
 
Companies can safely assume a significant portion of their workforces are engaged online in one way or another.  Employers should be mindful of how this reality intersects with their own obligations, expectations, business interests, legal exposure and so on. 

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Comments

Hi, my name is Ann. This author makes excellent points but offers few solutions. Is it time to stop acting in a paternalistic manner with respect to employees? Perhaps trusting the integrity of the people we hire is a long time in coming but very necessary.

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