It's a social world out there.

Please click here to read my masters thesis entitled, Sharing the Social Media Scene. I look forward to feedback!Sharing the Social Media Scene

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The way the world communicates will never be the same. Social media has forever changed the was in which people consume media as well as how people communicate on a daily basis.  The ease with which communication and media consumption now come is not without consequence.  The legal system has been trying since the introduction of the world wide web and, more specifically social media to find its place in the mix. It is clear that legal regulation is necessary in many aspects of social media use. The number of legal cases involving social media is on the rise. As social media replaces many out of date communication tools, snail mail or even phones, its name will be uttered much more frequently in courtrooms around the world.  Finding a balance between too much control and laws that prove to be out of date by the time they are passed must be a key goal for the legal system in its efforts to manage illegal acts happening through social media outlets.  The rapid growth and change that is taking place online in these new mediums is unprecedented, this fact combined with the increased anonymity and sheer size of media will present the legal system with a challenge unlike any it has seen before.

It is important to start by discussing when the legal system saw the first ripples of technology’s legal impact with the cases surrounding pioneer music sharing service, Napster, taking place in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. These cases were also the first time it became clear how powerful and far reaching the internet’s sharing capabilities would be, Napster laid a foundation that would be prove to be very similar to the power of social media and how it would impact legal systems.  Napster and the amount of pirated music it provided before it was shut down in 2001, gave the legal system a glimpse of how copyright laws would need to evolve as a result of the internet.  The Recording Industry Association of America was the first to step forward and question the legal infringements this kind of service would impose.  While the controversy caused Napster to become an Internet sensation, through which billions of songs were traded, its success was short lived after U.S. Federal courts concluded that while the users were the ones trading the songs illegally, Napster was acting as the broker for the transactions and it was housed on U.S. soil. Thus, if Napster did not shut the server down, the U.S. government would. Napster service was shut down in July of 2001. (3) The Napster example was the first of its kind, but there is plenty more where it came from.  Other services similar to Napster followed in the mid to late 2000’s, all of them brought legal issues involving piracy and copyright infringements. This was only the beginning for the internets impact on file sharing of all kinds, although just as it was in 2001 when Napster shut down after having already shared so much music illegally, laws were about five years behind the technology trends. This is similar to what is being seen today in 2010 around social media use, technology is, as it always has been, evolving faster than the legal system can handle.

The file sharing seen in the music piracy cases of the 2000’s should have given the legal system an idea of what was coming with social networking sites.  While the premise is very different, and the kinds of information being shared are different, the amount of information being shared is not.  Social networking sites have evolved faster than anything technology has ever seen. The ease with which communication happens through social networks makes it appealing to all generations, making it the main form of communications for millions world wide.  Users can update profiles, share picture and comments in seconds. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter are home to billions of people around the world who are sharing information of all kinds. A vast amount of this digital information sharing is positive, educational resources have greatly expanded through social networks, news services have taken advantage of networks and made news sharing much faster, easier and cheaper, these are only a few of the benefits coming from social networks. However, social networks have also been a harbor for cyber bullying, reputation tarnishing and copyright violations to name only a few negative uses.

A main aspect of social networks that is misconstrued by many users, especially the younger generations is that of privacy.  Teens often think they are safe in these online communities, when in reality parents, teachers and predators are looking at their profiles all the time. The laws around teens and acceptable social network use are still seemingly non-excitant in the U.S. How the legal system will deal with privacy issues in online social networks is yet to be determined, and is currently concentrating on young people and their safety in these networks. (2) It is clear the laws around privacy on these networks needs to be solidified, the pace with which new issues are arising is too fast for laws to be effective in this arena yet. While the laws around privacy catch us with what is happening online, it is imperative to be skeptical and ensure that younger generations fully understand how powerful and dangerous social networks are.

Twitter and Facebook posts are taking the center stage for many legal issues around social media. Many of the cases coming from interactions on these sites have to do with the following legal issues, defamation, copyright infringement and trademark violations. Defamation is the publication of a false statement about another that causes harm to reputation, when these comments are written or recorder versus just spoken they are considered libel. (4) Social networks provide the perfect environment for this crime to be committed; millions are publishing negative comments about others that can cause harm to that person’s reputation.  Millions of cases are being fought around these issues and statements made through social networking sites.  However, the laws around these issues are often less than iron clad.  These laws are considered by many to be uncertain and complicated due to the design to protect free speech. (4)

While laws around defamation on social networks are still being solidified, one fact has become clear, the users, not the sites will take the heat. A recent act has provided the foundation for how social network sites can defend themselves in defamation cases:

“The Communications Decency Act (CDA), provides a safe harbor from defamation claims to social networking Web sites so long as the defendant is a provider or user of an interactive computer service, the asserted claim treats the defendant as a publisher or speaker of information, and the challenged communication is information provided by another information content provider. For a social network to shelter itself under the CDA, it is critical to avoid being classified as an “independent content provider.” (6)

This act provides legal safety for many social networking sites involving defamation, however, the person making the accusation on the site will not be protected. This act, written in 1996 was the first of its kind was at first an attempt to regulate pornographic material online, but today is used more to protect social networking services providers.

Trademark infringements are another area of law that is being affected by social media use.  A trademark can protect almost anything, a number, word or symbol, which is used by a company to identify its goods. (6)The Internet provides an arena in which it is nearly impossible to effectively regulate copyrights. Furthermore the cases that have come about have lead to laws that, while they protect copyrighted material, make it hard for the copyright holder to protect their work. This has come about as a result of one specific case, Hendrickson v. eBay. This case found EBay not guilty when they were persecuted for being part of the distribution of copyrighted material. “The significance of the eBay decision is that it shifts the burden of finding infringing marks posted on social networking Web sites to the owner of the trademark” (6) This legal finding makes the work of a copyright holder nearly impossible, tracking of ones copyright protected material would be a full time job.  This finding more fully protects sites and puts the punishment on users.  The current laws around copyright protected material on the Internet; specifically around social media give another reason that users must be educated before diving into social media.

In the time it took to complete this study of the legal implications of social media, much of it has changed, sites have updated and altered their privacy settings, new issues have arisen with changes in how certain services are used but the laws around these issues have no changed.  In many ways the legal system is the opposite of the Internet and social media.  While the Internet through social media provides instant updates, and an ease of use that is like no other medium, the legal system and all the procedures embedded it often-slow things down. Court hearings, appeals and judgments take time.  Change happens so rapidly in technology that laws, once passed are outdated.  A recent CNN article around laws and their ability to keep up changing technology states;

“Generally, it is at least five years behind technology as it is developing,” said Andrea Matwyshyn, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, who tracks the intersection of law and technology. The first is that it’s typically difficult to predict or anticipate technology innovations. Think of the music-sharing battles that began — and are still going on — after the advent of Napster.  Another reason is that it’s difficult to handle cases that deal with the Internet and the Web because it confronts a fundamental schism: Is the Web a unique, separate space or is it really an extension of real space? (5)

The internet provides so many new communication forms that laws are not accustomed to dealing with.  The ever-expanding use of social media is changing even further how the legal system needs to attend to virtual space.  The ease with which social media users can commit libel against friends and companies, or grab and reproduce trademarked materials or use copyrighted materials without permissions have greatly increased.  The legal system has worked to pass acts like the CDA, but must continue to rework these kinds of laws to adapt to the changing technologies.

Time is of the essence for the U.S. legal system to find its place in the social media world. Many authorities are working with sites like Facebook and Twitter to anonymously follow criminals, who social media use, is on the rise, more closely. These sites are cooperating with authorities in order to make their virtual spaces that much safer. (7) It is time for laws to be written around how sites should work with legal entities.  The issues around legal regulation of the Internet and social media are sensitive, but need to be dealt with as quickly as possible by the legal system.  If the issues around these technologies are not prioritized they will no longer be relevant, laws around technology must be at the forefront of many legal discussions.  It is important for legal regulations to be in place in order to promote the safe use of social media, the regulations must find a balance. They much not be overly restrictive on social media, as it today provide the main way in which millions of Americans practice their right to free speech. These regulations at the same time must be strong enough to punish those who are abusing the service social media provides.  It will be a challenge for the legal system to find this balance, but it is possible and needs to be addressed as soon as possible. Today the legal system is not able to keep up with changes in technology and their for legal attention.

Sources:

1)   Associated Press. (2010, February 4). House adds cell phone restrictions to texting bill – BostonHerald.com. Mobile – BostonHerald.com. Retrieved February 7, 2010, from http://www.bostonherald.com/news/politics/view.bg?articleid=1230674&srvc=rss

2)   Barnes, S. (2006, September 1). Barnes. First Monday. Retrieved February 7, 2010, from http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/1394/1312

3)    Goldsmith, J., & Wu, T. (2006).Who Controls the Internet?: Illusions of a Borderless World. New York: Oxford University Press, USA.

4)    Solove, D. J. (2008). The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet. New Haven: Yale University Press.

5)    Tanneeru, M. (2009, November 17). Can the law keep up with technology? – CNN.com.CNN.com – Breaking News, U.S., World, Weather, Entertainment & Video News. Retrieved January 23, 2010, from http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/11/17/law.technology/index.html

6)   Viscounty, P., Archie, J., Alemi, F., & Allen, J. (n.d.). Social Networking and the Law: Virtual Social Communities Are Creating Real Legal Issues. American Bar Association – Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice. Retrieved February 7, 2010, from http://www.abanet.org/buslaw/blt/2009-03-04/viscounty.shtml

7)    WATKINS, T. (2010, February 2). Use of Twitter, Facebook rising among gang members – washingtonpost.com. washingtonpost.com – nation, world, technology and Washington area news and headlines. Retrieved February 7, 2010, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/02/AR2010020200499.html

Social media professionals gather regularly at conferences across the world, talking about the latest statistics, the future and how they turn this all into profit. I was at one of these conference this week and it has forced me to reflect. What forced me to seek reflection? A silly moment really, a moment during the keynote in which my iphone let me know I had a text. Normally, this would be embarrassing, however, I had heard the same sound 5 times from other’s phones before my own went off. Making me note, we were never asked to turn off our phones, no, we had been encouraged to tweet about the presentations, share thought through tweets etc. This is when I realized just how amazing and powerful the social media arena is.

At this point in my study I wanted to take a minute, before I delve into my final paper readings and research to think about what my work in social media means.  In the past weeks I have started to feel like I am, for the first time, secure in where I want to be and what I want out of my career. After high school it seems like this feat I have struggled with the past 3 years will be easy. Don’t you just go to college, study, get good grades, find a job and know what you want? No, as I am sure many of you know, it is far more difficult than it seems. As I begin the job search to take the next step in my career this summer, I am realizing how lucky I am to be where I am, and that is, involved so deeply in social media.

Social media is truly transforming the lives of millions, including my own.  It is changing how I think about my life, my career, business, money, friends, news, the world, the list goes on. It is changing me, and likely, you.  This is why I know I am in the right place. I want to continue to build a career in social media and teach on its wonders, what do I see in my five year plan? Academia, teaching and advising in communications and social media studies.  Phew, I said it, I am ready to narrow my search to the field that I have spent the last  3 years working in, and 2 years studying in, and I could not be more excited. While this second half of my social media independent study has made it clear just how, murky the legal waters are when it comes to social media, I am ready to study them, teach them and keep up with exactly where those waters seem to be running.  Social media is building the foundation of my future, I can’t wait to find out just what it will build.

Communication habits have changed drastically in the past decade. A good place to see just how much this has effected our lives is while traveling, driving, on a train or in an airport. Ipods, smartphones and laptops are fixtures of these places. The personal, one-on-one conversation that in the past took place so often in these arenas seem to have vanished.  Travelers can now be seen texting, listening to music or podcasts, writing email, plainly, being connected. The has caused the introduction of many laws and regulations about when and where mobile devices can be used. These devices have increased our ability and desire to multitask, making us more distracted from the task at hand, whether it be walk, driving or sitting in an airport, we are significantly less aware of our surroundings.

The impact of new technologies and media use are still being researched. It is clear that we have changed how much we multitask and how much media we consume.  Smartphones and laptops have changed how and if we relax, have you ever gone on vacation without one of these devices?  Vacations from technologies for many aren’t vacations, we have found ourselves “needing” our phones, the ability to check email and see the latest news or status updates through twitter.  Preliminary studies are showing that being on a cell phone greatly decrease how aware a user is of their surroundings.  According to a recent New York Times article a Western Washington University psychology class is finding just how distracted we are, stating;

“One of the students dressed as a clown and unicycled around a central square on campus. About half the people walking past by themselves said they had seen the clown, and the number was slightly higher for people walking in pairs. But only 25 percent of people talking on a cellphone said they had, Mr. Hyman said.” (1)

25% is a very low percentage of people, this albeit small, study clearly shows the extent of a cell phones distraction on a user. Technology will continue to affect how we communicate globally and how we live out our daily lives.  It has become clear that we will likely only become more immerse in media and technology, however, it will not be without consequences. Laws are being put in place around technology use and traveling because we have become distracted enough to cause harm to others, it is time to consider how and when we use technology and how if effects those around us.

1) RICHTEL, M. (2010, January 16). Driven to Distraction – Pedestrians, Too, Are Distracted by Cellphones – Series – NYTimes.com. The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. Retrieved January 19, 2010, from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/17/technology/17distracted.html?emc=eta1

Social media outlets are leading law enforcement to criminals in ways other forms of communication never could.  The legal implications of social media expand far beyond the negative infringements on copyright and defamation that have been covered in earlier posts, the implications of social media have also had their positive effects on the legal system. Laws continue to struggle to keep up with technology, however, they are making the jobs of law enforcement officials easier in many ways.  Criminals are using many social media outlets to communicate just like everyone else.  And like many other these criminals are not realizing how far their tweets and facebook status’ might go, or who might read them and where they might be used again them.

My posts have many times before mentioned how social media posts are being used in criminal trials to prove guilt or innocence.  The constant connectivity lends users to on many aspects of their personal lives, for criminals this is meaning they are leaving a trail.  According to a  recent Washington Post article, criminals, specifically gang members use of social media outlets, facebook and twitter in on the rise.  These groups are using the new media communication tools to share all kinds of incriminating information, and most of it is open for law enforcement to see relatively easily.  Officials use the anonymity of the internet and pose as young women to gain entrance into groups where they become privy to an ongoing conversation between members. (1) It is also common practice for social media services to comply with law enforcement requests, making their investigations run that must more smooth.

No matter the content users should always realize that the information they are posting can be used against them, in this case it is a good thing.  Officials are finding information through social media they never would have otherwise.  The increased use of social media among gang members may seem scary members of sites such as twitter and facebook, but it is good to know law enforcement agencies are closely monitoring the activities here. Just how law enforcement will continue to take advantage of the interaction taking place online is unknown, but it is clear this type of lead tracking works well and is being accepted as legitimate evidence, therefore it is likely they will continue to employ these tactics as well as explore further possibilities of social media tracking.

1) WATKINS, T. (2010, February 2). Use of Twitter, Facebook rising among gang members – washingtonpost.com. washingtonpost.com – nation, world, technology and Washington area news and headlines. Retrieved February 7, 2010, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/02/AR2010020200499.html

Athletes have been training all over the world for months, preparing for the 2010 Winter Olympics that will begin later this week.  This year viewers will see new options for following the games, many of them will come in the form of social media.  Twitter and Facebook pages for the games and many of its teams and athletes will be a flutter with news and results. Social media will play back up to NBC coverage, but will likely be taking a much more prominent role for viewers interested in the 2010 games in Vancouver.

Social media in 2010 is a powerful enough communication too for the Olympic committee to regulate how athletes use it.  Regulations and laws around the Olympics are strict and are revisited year-to-year to ensure equality among competitors.  This year, the committee decided that in order to protect infringements on copyrights and contracts athletes have restricted use of social media. They can use social media outlets, but exactly what they can post is restricted. Although it seems just what is and what isn’t acceptable maybe understood differently from athlete to athlete. A recent CNN story on this issues revealed that some athletes will be “benching” themselves from their twitter and facebook accounts in order to avoid complications.

The legal issues the Olympic committee is trying to avoid lie with endorsement contracts, sponsor references to those not partnered with the Olympics and the committees desire to avoid those who aren’t journalists acting as if they are.  It is interesting to see the committee honor journalists in ways they aren’t seeing as of late.  The Olympics is an event that should be reported by trained journalists, and not by the athletes themselves. In years past athletes wouldn’t have been able to report up to the minutes stats, feelings and news as they can today.  The article  outlines just how athletes should feel they can use social media services throughout the games.

“‘Athletes are free to blog during the Games,’ says Bob Condron, the Director of Media Services for the United States Olympic Committee. ‘And Twitter is just a blog that’s written 140 characters at a time.’

There are some restrictions on what athletes can do online during the Olympics. According to the IOC Blogging Guidelines for the 2010 Games, athletes and other accredited people must keep their posts confined to their personal experiences.

‘You can’t act as a journalist if you aren’t,’ says Condron. ‘You need to do things in a first person way.'” (1)

This article and the social media coverage around the games is another example of how social media use is requiring legal restrictions.  The Olympic committee did the right thing in thinking ahead about how athletes would use their social media outlets and how this could cause infringements on many Olympics sponsor regulations.  However, athletes have also been quoted saying they will be taking to social media to report on their Olympic journeys, it should be an interesting winter games, tune in on NBC or your favorite social media outlet!

1) McClusky, M. (2010, February 5). Athletes confused by Olympic social media rules – CNN.com. CNN.com – Breaking News, U.S., World, Weather, Entertainment & Video News. Retrieved February 7, 2010, from http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/0

Source for my final paper on the legal implications of social media will include, but may not be limited to the following:

1)   Associated Press. (2010, February 4). House adds cell phone restricions to texting bill – BostonHerald.com. Mobile – BostonHerald.com. Retrieved February 7, 2010, from http://www.bostonherald.com/news/politics/view.bg?articleid=1230674&srvc=rss

2)   Barnes, S. (2006, September 1). Barnes. First Monday. Retrieved February 7, 2010, from http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/1394/1312

3)   Goldsmith, J., & Wu, T. (2006).Who Controls the Internet?: Illusions of a Borderless World. New York: Oxford University Press, USA.

4)    Solove, D. J. (2008). The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet. New Haven: Yale University Press.

5)    Tanneeru, M. (2009, November 17). Can the law keep up with technology? – CNN.com.CNN.com – Breaking News, U.S., World, Weather, Entertainment & Video News. Retrieved January 23, 2010, from http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/11/17/law.technology/index.html

6)   Viscounty, P., Archie, J., Alemi, F., & Allen, J. (n.d.). Social Networking and the Law: Virtual Social Communities Are Creating Real Legal Issues. American Bar Association – Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice. Retrieved February 7, 2010, from http://www.abanet.org/buslaw/blt/2009-03-04/viscounty.shtml

7)    WATKINS, T. (2010, February 2). Use of Twitter, Facebook rising among gang members – washingtonpost.com. washingtonpost.com – nation, world, technology and Washington area news and headlines. Retrieved February 7, 2010, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/02/AR2010020200499.html

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