When it comes to online privacy, and more specifically social media privacy, it is such a new area that the laws have yet to be written. As technology improves and becomes more complex, the need for legislation emerges in several areas. It is definitely an area that is changing all the time and is often difficult to keep on top of, especially with varying state, federal, and international laws. There are many legal issues that come up because the laws were written before the technology of the internet and social sites existed, so it is up to the current legal system to determine if the law applies to digital communications or if the laws have to be rewritten, changed, or new laws formed. One thing is for sure in this area, changes are coming.
There are issues that came up recently where employers have asked interviewing employees not only for the details of their social media profiles, but also wanted passwords and logins to get a “behind the scenes” look as part of making their hiring decisions. In some industry’s this might be more of a concern than in others, however social media information was being asked for by companies where it really would have no bearing on the company. Once the news broke of this practice, among much controversy, other employers jumped on the bandwagon and began asking current employees for their social media account information. One of the main protests, aside from the privacy issue, is the question of whether looking at an sales employee’s social activity has any correlation to how well they sell promotional products for the company. After a large outcry of protests from the media and the general public, this practice began seeing legal action in the form of lawsuits again the companies trying to access employee’s social profile data. Most of the outrage concerning this was because their jobs were being threatened if the employees refused to turn over the information. Several states have reacted quickly to this idea of employers requiring access to employees’ private communications and this practice has been outlawed in several states with bills being passed into legislature. It is predicted to be passed into law in all 50 states very soon.
In a related, but slightly different legal issue, there have been cases where Facebook and Twitter users have lost their jobs as a result of something they had posted on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. This point of view is slightly different, because it doesn’t address whether the user intended on posting something publicly or privately, but that the information was discovered by their employer, who then subsequently fired them based on the posted information. There are, of course, varying degrees of violations here and it is more subjective rather than cut and dry. What one employer, business, or industry might find as a fire-able offense might not be to another business or industry. Since these subjective type of guidelines really must apply to the type of business and individual company standards and guidelines, we are now seeing most corporations and businesses coming up with a social media guideline, outlining rules for employee’s expected behavior online and detailing consequences for violating those rules. This is a very grey area, because of the large span and infinite possibly situations that can occur. One particular case in this area is interesting; it is a case where an employer fired an employee simply for liking a page on Facebook. This case had political leanings, which makes the situation even more complex. The ultimate ruling in this case was that pressing the like button is ultimately an exercise in free speech. However, it opens up a whole new can of worms, that beyond actually writing intended words, that clicking a button has consequences at one’s job. Where can the line be drawn against this type of action? What if an employee “likes” the page of a competing product? What if an employee “likes” the page of a hate group, pornography site, or similar “morally” questionable material? The potential for future legislation in this area will likely be companies having to justify the reason for terminating an employment. The best way for companies to protect themselves here is to be transparent with their policy, but since the possibilities are infinite, it is not possible for companies to be expected to list any and all social media actions that could get someone fired.
Those are just some highlights and examples of areas where social media privacy legislation is emerging and growing. There are legal topics on whether the information shared on social networks is admissible as evidence in courts. Other types of lawsuits have cropped up where a company wanted control over an employee, or former employee’s social media channels after they have left the company when they blended both personal and professional social media activity on one account that was originally a personal account, or developed while working for the company. One proposed law in Texas would require all convicted sex offenders to post that information on their social profiles if passed. In all of these situations, we will soon be seeing more lawsuits, court battles, and new laws enacted to govern the future of technology is this quickly expanding area.