A Look at Social Media and the Law

Social media can be a boon for a company, but the complexities of liability and compliance can transform it to a bane. To help firms navigate unsettled waters, an international law firm created a free online webinar on social media legal policies.

The presentation, available either as a slide show with audio or a PDF, is part of a Data Protection Master Class that Morrison and Foerster has presented online over the past several years. The firm has offices in the United States, Europe and Asia.

Christine E. Lyon, a partner at the firm, told CMSWire the webinar places a heavy emphasis on European law because data protection is more extensive there than in the US.

Europe’s ‘Data Protection Directive’

Europe, she noted, has a “data protection directive, which includes really comprehensive data protection laws.”

It’s not enough “to just rely on your privacy policy,” she said. The webinar covers the gamut of topics in some detail, but the key points are being transparent with users, getting adequate consent, preventing use by under-aged children and deciding whether to keep all that content online for an extended period of time or in an archive.

Transparency alone requires a long list of requirements, made more complex by country-to-country variations. It includes making sure users know who is responsible for a given social environment, what those responsibilities are and an understanding of the default settings. It also means understanding the governing laws in the country where the company is physically located as well as the kinds of hidden advertising, data capture or targeting being conducted.

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Twenty Challenges

The slide presentation notes twenty separate areas of challenges, ranging from electronic discovery and defamation to trade secrets and issues relating to data mining or sharing.

The decision about whether and how to keep data is also typical of the complexities. “A business with a Facebook fan page cannot be responsible for use of personal data,” Lyon said, “because Facebook is responsible for data protection.” However, in some countries, such as Germany, the government has determined that Facebook Germany is not responsible for the social content because it is only a “marketing agent” there. But if your company, instead of Facebook, takes responsibility for managing or storing the social interaction or data, it’s yours — and so could the liability.

Social businesses and social media are taking over both business and social interaction, an ocean that will not stop rising. This webinar presents a good map of the hidden rocks and shipwrecks.

Intro image by Juergen Faelchle (Shutterstock).