Two years ago, we wrote about a possible First Amendment challenge involving Donald Trump’s practice of blocking certain Twitter users from his @realDonaldTrump account. While it was unclear at the time of our post whether the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University—an organization that uses strategic litigation to preserve the freedoms of speech and the press—would pursue further action, the Knight Institute filed a complaint a few days later in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against Trump, then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and Daniel Scavino, the White House Director of Social Media and Assistant to the President. On July 9, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a decision regarding this First Amendment issue.
In a time when information is increasingly shared through social media, companies—particularly publicly traded ones—must recognize and consider the potential legal ramifications that could arise from statements made by executives, board members, and/or other employees about the company on social media. Though the actions of a certain well-known technology entrepreneur have provided perhaps the most prominent example of these ramifications, there are plenty of other cautionary tales reminding us that a powerful marketing tool that allows company CEOs to connect directly with consumers carries a host of possible legal consequences. Among the most potentially damaging—time-consuming and costly securities-related litigation, both with complaints involving the SEC and private shareholder litigation.
Earlier this month, we discussed the ways in which companies should navigate negative critiques and reputation management in the Age of Social Media. One option includes the pursuit of litigation, often demonstrated through claims for defamation. This course of action can typically be found in the context of a negative review: a company provides a service, customer is unhappy with the service, customer posts negative review about company online. In California, a company that wishes to claim said review has crossed a line must then prove (1) the customer made a false, defamatory statement concerning the company, (2) the customer made an unprivileged publication to a third party, (3) the publisher of the false statements acted at least negligently in its publication, and (4) the statement had a natural tendency to injure or cause special damage.
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.
A California state appellate court sided with Twitter and put a halt to a lawsuit filed against the social media service by white nationalist Jared Taylor. In the lawsuit, Taylor alleges he was wrongly banned from Twitter in December 2017 when Twitter permanently suspended Taylor and his publication, American Renaissance, soon after it announced a crackdown on “violent extremist groups.” In his lawsuit, Taylor claimed that the Twitter account suspensions violated several California laws, including one dealing with unfair business practices.
Does one person’s Twitter account a trade secret make? A newspaper in Virginia apparently thinks so. This past week, the owner of The Roanoke Times sued former Virgina Tech sports reporter Andy Bitter under the federal Defend Trade Secrets Act, among other things, because he refused to give up the login information for a Twitter account.
Last Tuesday afternoon, Elon Musk tweeted from his personal handle, “Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured.” These words drove Tesla’s share prices up by 10% on Tuesday before Nasdaq halted trading, increasing Musk’s estimated net worth by $1.4 billion dollars.
Since then, there has been a lot of speculation about Musk’s tweet, including about whether it violated SEC rules. News outlets reported last week that the SEC has contacted Tesla to inquire as to the accuracy of the tweet, a move that could indicate the start of a more formal investigation.
We have previously examined the evolving role of the hashtag in intellectual property law, particularly trademark law. While the nuances of the symbol’s existence and use protections continue to be ironed out by the courts and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the hashtag has quickly become a ubiquitous tool on social media. It is no surprise the legal field is utilizing the empowered hashtag to connect members of the industry, particularly on Twitter. Using #legal or #LawTwitter hashtags on social media has created informal “groups” of lawyers, judges and other legal practitioners who provide support, feedback and criticisms of its members (and others) on a variety of topics.
When it comes to finding ways of making money, no corner of a capitalistic society shall go unmined. This applies to obvious goods and services but also comes into play with our very thoughts and how we express them. In the age of social media, not even the framed needlepoint proverb is safe from “disruption”: behold, the framed tweet.
After counter-protests ended in tragedy, a small group of social media users took to Twitter to expose the identities of the white supremacists and neo-Nazis rallying in Charlottesville, Va. Since last Sunday, the @YesYoureRacist account has been calling on Twitter users to identify participants in the rally. Twitter users identified several white supremacists, including Cole White. Users revealed White’s name and place of residence and his employer reportedly fired him from his job at a restaurant in Berkeley, Calif. Several other employers fired employees identified online as attending the rally. In the wake of what will likely be just the latest incident where such behavior will be exhibited and subsequently called out on social media, it’s a good time to look at doxing and the legal environment in which it exists.