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Next Up, Social Media Law

More and more today, for the corporate user, social networking is giving way to social business, and along with it, experts predict, will be specific social media law and regulations.

A recent eWeek article, IBM Gets Down to Social Business, points to how “Social networking, and its social-business offspring, has become a fashionable field of study at universities. Student projects often focus on using social networks to solve everyday and business-related problems.” The story notes how students are using social-business projects for their master’s thesis.

As social networking becomes more tightly woven into business processes, it is no surprise that greater regulation is anticipated. Well known legal firm Morrison & Foerster (MoFo) recently launched a new blog called Socially Aware, “to help companies understand the legal implications of social media use – including privacy protection for workers’ Facebook musings, securities laws governing blog postings, or the confidentiality of instant messaging.”

This blog may sound familiar, as it is a companion to the firm’s Socially Aware newsletter. While it is still emerging, social media law is a high interest area for Fortune 500 companies. Morrison & Foerster’s Social Media Practice Group says it advises companies and financial institutions across industry sectors on social media law, regulation and policy affecting privacy, data security, intellectual property, employment, securities, advertising, defamation, online contracting, user-generated content and use of social media in the workplace.

According to the blog, there will be “an explosion of employment law disputes involving social media this year.” John Delaney, a founding editor of Socially Aware and co-chair of Morrison & Foerster’s Social Media Practice Group, believes everyone from Fortune 500 companies to mom-and-pop neighborhood stores are rushing to embrace social media, and says the medium is perhaps the greatest tool for reaching customers since the creation of the World Wide Web. 

Delaney warns however, “Corporate users of social media need to be aware of emerging intellectual property, privacy, employment law and other legal risks associated with social networks. This is an area where implementing a few protective measures today will help a company avoid expensive legal headaches in the future.”

In 2012, companies that have been slow to adopt social media, MoFo expects, will begin to do so. Notes a blog entry, “We will see even the most conservative Fortune 500 companies adopting internal, company-wide social media platforms of the type offered by Jive, NewsGator and SocialText. In 2013 and beyond, we’ll be seeing a new generation of privacy, employment, defamation and other legal claims arising out of these enterprise social platforms.”

It won’t be just companies that will experience an increase in social media law activity. MoFo says that regardless of Facebook’s recent settlement with the FTC over its data collection practices, the firm anticipates still further privacy law headaches for social media companies. “Many social media providers, anxious to justify astronomical valuations, are undoubtedly feeling pressure to make more aggressive use of personal information collected from customers.” MoFo predicts we will witness much more in 2012, especially by European regulators.

Even though social media law is not “new” — just look at the blog’s interesting Key Moments in Social Media Law that begins with an entry for 1984 — it is clearly building in complexity, especially as it pertains to privacy and content ownership rights.

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