Social Media Suits: What’s to Come in 2012?

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With social media at the helm of many of our lives, it was no surprise that 2011 was dotted with lawsuits and disputes regarding privacy, rights and other issues. According to commercial litigation attorney Brian D. Wasson, social media will continue to cause law disputes in this new year, especially regarding rights, evidence, and freedom of speech.

One right that social media edges on—something that isn’t very well known or nearly as well understood—is the Right of Publicity. Wasson defines this as “the legal right to control the commercial use of your personal likeness.” This form of intellectual property law is different in every state, which adds to the confusion. This past December, a case arose where an individual was suing because of Facebook’s “Sponsored Story” ads that sit on the side of the screen and show you who of your friends likes what particular ad. So, 2012 will most likely see many individuals explore the Right of Publicity to control such uses of their information.

At this point, everyone has heard that bosses and employers frequent Facebook, all seeking to find out more about their employees. Many of these situations have led to firings, and many individuals have just not been hired based on what their social media pages say or show about them. In 2011, though, The National Labor Relations Board took various employers to court for doing just that. Wasson explains that this will lessen workplace issues born from social media sites.

Perhaps the most obvious issue of all is regarding social media and privacy. Online privacy law is getting a lot of attention right now: Facebook recently agreed to submit to audits of their privacy practices to the Federal Trade Commission for the next two decades, which puts the standards in the hands of the FTC. Wasson says that this will likely set the standard for all other social media sites in 2012.

Wasson is also sure that social media will become more present in the courts. The use of social media evidence in the courtroom has occurred, and it will become more and more prevalent. However, courts will (and must) come up with ways to prove reliability and authenticity of posts, photos and other information found on social media sites.

Finally, and maybe the most difficult issue of all, is the issue of governing students’ use of social media sites. According to the Supreme Court, a student may be disciplined when his or her freedom of speech causes a true disruption in the classroom. This blurs the lines of a student’s right to the First Amendment since, as Wasson points out, many social media posts are produced outside of school property.

Surely 2012 will show many more cases, issues and discrepancies regarding social media and the law. This is just a preview.