Produced in Partnership with Wharton

Law meets technology

The meteoric rise of social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as social communications tools like Twitter, pose a series of new legal questions.  Here’s how panelists Denise Howell ["This Week in Law"], Alex Macgillivray [Twitter], Kerry Krzynowek [Deloitte] and Gabe Ramsey [Orrick] begin to answer them .

The legal state of social in the workplace:  Extend traditional boundaries of etiquette and propriety

Most traditional policies work just as well in the social element, but there are differences in social communication that are driving a new look at policy:  the informality and immediacy of social media mean that review of advance drafts is pretty much out the window; the blurred lines between personal and professional mean that each  persona reflects on the other; and user generated content, while a staple of social communication, has always been vetted in the traditional corporate structure.

Google execs caution, “don’t be dumb.”  We have always had to draw boundaries between the personal and professional — think of the passing conversation one has with the butcher.  We don’t reveal everything to her, even if the conversation is of a personal nature, so why would we do the same over a social network?  The important thing to remember is that social media enables traditional communication while it creates new opportunities to build trust between people and companies, whatever the relationship.

Over time, we have seen all types of new technological tools get incorporated and integrated into existing technologies.  It’s critical to set expectations, even while we wait for social media to congeal within corporate structures.

The next step in setting policy:  Teach people the boundaries from a good place

The simpler the policy, the better; focus on the substantive issues. Just because an individual can communicate anything, anytime via social networks doesn’t mean that the company can or should.  Any training should be developed from the mindset of what the company is trying to do, not what it’s trying to avoid.

Decision point:  Think about whether an employee is a company rep 24/7

Separation of church and state, in social media at least, is still an experiment.

Confidentiality:  What is secret needs to say secret, but let’s not obsess about it

The reality is that if something is a secret, the company and its people need to keep it that way — otherwise you can’t protect the content.  Yet the focus should be on how we engage with employees and customers in a way that builds allegiance — so that confidentiality is organic among all parties.

Responsibility to users and customers:  Stick up for them — it’s the law

Platform providers actually have the law behind them; a longstanding protection is that not liable for defamation.  Users want providers who back them, both in terms of the content users produce and their privacy.

Risk:  It’s always been part of doing business and always had to be managed

Launching products and talking about what you do is risky, whether it’s coming from a member of the executive team or an employee.  The onus is on everyone to be smart about what is said.

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