Thursday, June 2, 2011

Social Media Dangers

As a social media attorney, I often see the dark side of the internet and instant connectivity. This week I am reminded once again of the dangers inherent in these new tools. Politicians like Anthony Weiner are in a tough spot. They need social media to campaign and connect with constituents in a meaningful way, however, they are exposed to scandal now more than ever. Reputations and careers can be destroyed, deservedly or undeservedly, in days if not minutes.

Did Anthony Weiner do something wrong? Was his account hacked? Who knows. That's not really the important issue. What is important is how Weiner and other public figures manage their social media exposure and liability in a world of shrinking privacy rights.

Participation in social media necessarily demands a bargain in which exposure, connectivity and participation come at the price of privacy. How can Weiner have an expectation of privacy with regard to his Twitter account? Twitter is a third party service and Weiner's Twitter account information is hosted, not on a server that he owns, but on a server presumably owned by Twitter or some other third party ISP.

Now, personally identifiable information (PII) is a different animal. Internet service providers often have a legal obligation to secure this information (credit cards, bank accounts etc). No such information appears to have been compromised in Weiner-gate.

Social media is here to stay. It tends to ruin just as many careers as it aids. It would be wise for public figures - politicians, athletes, entertainers, to retain social media counsel to review and manage their social media campaigns and endorsements in order to limit liability and damage to their brand/careers. Under FTC rules, for example, celebrity endorsers may be liable for false advertising or other legal claims springing from the products they endorse. As such, paid endorsements on services like Twitter need to be carefully reviewed and disclosed to the public.

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