We often write about the benefits and pitfalls of social media usage. As companies and big businesses employ social media as an advertising mainstay, one pitfall we frequently encounter is the failure to properly manage a company’s social media handles. Like most pitfalls, these issues can be avoided. At a minimum, companies should have in place a robust and effective social media policy that is up to date on the current relevant laws, including privacy, advertising and employment laws. The policy should also include training, policing and reporting mechanisms that include clear guidance on what can and cannot come through on the company’s social media.
In the last decade, social media platforms have embedded themselves in the human resources function in companies worldwide. Companies like LinkedIn and Indeed have built empires based on clever deployment of social media to assist in the hiring and networking processes, even as human resource professionals use social media for more than finding the next great executive or software engineer to propel the business forward. Social media plays a key role in hiring, firing and all aspects of employee management and relations. Various studies and surveys have shown that up to 80% of all companies make some use of social media platforms in human resource decisions.
The March 21st passing of the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) has dramatically altered the rules of engagement for social media companies. The new law amends and clarifies that the Communications Decency Act of 1996 was never intended to legally protect websites that unlawfully promote and facilitate prostitution and human trafficking or websites that should have known their platform was being utilized for such activities. The bill also creates new areas of civil liabilities for companies and necessitates more active monitoring of online accounts. In their recent Client Alert, colleagues William M. Sullivan, Jr. and Fabio Leonardi examine the immediate and future ramifications of the bill.
Under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), all employees have a right to engage in protected concerted activity, even if they are not unionized. Such activities include those performed for the mutual aid or protection of all employees, such as discussing the terms and conditions of employment. An employer is prohibited by the Act from interfering with, restraining or coercing employees from exercising their Section 7 rights. In the past decade, there have been a number of important cases decided by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the agency that protects the rights of employees to join together and improve wage and working conditions, that impact social media policies. In fact, many of the decisions have struck down social media policies as unenforceable under the NLRA. If any provision in a social media policy is vague or overbroad and can be read as restricting activities protected by Section 7, that provision will likely be found unlawful and unenforceable by the NLRB.
As we previously discussed in our post “The ‘Commander-in-Tweet’ and the First Amendment,” the POTUS was criticized by the Knight First Amendment Institute for blocking certain Twitter users from his @realDonaldTrump account. According to the Knight First Amendment Institute, President Trump’s Twitter account functions like a town hall meeting where the public can voice their views about government actions and attendees cannot be excluded based on their views under the First Amendment. Therefore, according to the Knight Institute, President Trump is violating the First Amendment by blocking users based on the content of their tweets. Subsequently, on July 11, 2017, the Knight First Amendment filed suit against President Trump and his communications team on this basis.
Whether or not your friends and family get a kick out of your misery at work, that online post of yours might tick off your employer. But what rights do employers have to restrain their employees from complaining about them online? Can employers punish employees for posting their grievances online? How do courts differentiate between “protected” and “tantrum” posts? What is the Government’s view on employees’ social media postings? In 2011, Pier Sixty LLC fired Hernan Perez for labeling his supervisor a “nasty M.F.” and using similarly profane language against his supervisor’s family in a Facebook post that ended with a plea to “Vote YES for the UNION.” In a 2016 decision, the Second Circuit enforced the National Labor Research Board’s (NLRB) decision and found that the employee was protected under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) because the post was in relation to a union-related activity.
At the end of 2016, the U.S. Customs Border Protection (CBP) implemented a rule to include questions concerning social media accounts of travelers to the United States during the Visa Waiver Program screening process (VWP). The VWP permits citizens of 38 countries to visit the United States for up to 90 days without having to obtain a visa. ESTA is the automated system that determines the eligibility of travelers entering through the VWP. Now, in addition to collecting biographical information from a traveler, CBP will request social media identifiers of travelers during the ESTA application process for vetting purposes. Continue reading →
Brand companies have come to view user-generated content as often one of the most effective and authentic ways to advertise their products or services. This is known as “user-generated content marketing.” For example, with the ubiquitous selfie, brand companies have discovered a rich supply of user-generated content. Consider a consumer who takes a selfie wearing a favorite pair of jeans, posts the photo on Instagram, and then tags the photo with #brandname. The jean company sees and likes the photo, re-posting it on the company website. Legal issues? If the consumer or user was hoping to get attention from the brand for the photo and opinions shared online, not at all. This is how many digital influencers get their start. But if the user was not seeking such attention? Then, problems can arise.
Notwithstanding that the people involved are often surprised at their public exposure, it has become somewhat commonplace for individuals to be either caught on video by a smartphone or to have a social media website posting that demonstrates poor judgment go viral. All employers should consider having a social media response plan for just these sorts of incidents, in some cases to protect other employees and in many cases to protect the employer’s brand and reputation. Even then, employers must strike a fine balance in navigating their rights and responsibilities towards all affected by the sudden exposure.
The Federal Communications Commission’s Accessibility and Innovation Initiative will host an “Accessing Social Media” event on Thursday, July 17, 2014 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Commission Meeting Room in its headquarters located at 445 12th Street, S.W., Washington, D.C. The event will be webcast without open captioning. The event is open to the public, however, RSVPing for in-person attendance is encouraged.
The FCC’s stated purpose of the event is “to facilitate a collaborative, cross-sector exchange of information about making social media tools and content accessible to people with disabilities, including information about authoring tools, client apps and best practices.” The event will include panels of industry, consumer and government representatives and feature technology demonstrations in an exhibit area.