Thursday, February 21, 2008

Social media is not an exception

A lead story in today's local newspaper is a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that a law passed in Maine, while having significant public health benefit, is invalid. In a unanimous decision, they stated "Despite the importance of the public health objective .... [federal law] says nothing about a public health exception ..."

I've read with interest, but not agreement, commentary by a handful of (non-CEO) association community bloggers that social media needs to have space with minimal (if any) conversational restriction, minimal thought of continued value/relevance of brands (including trademarks), and association staff need more freedom to express individuality without significant CEO concern of legal issues, particularly potential liability. Hmm ...

The headline could read, "Despite the importance of the social media objective .... the law says nothing about a social media exception ..."

It's difficult to debate utopian ideas when it's not about the merits of utopia, but rather the unpopular yet very real aspect of liability created by social media. Or as the legal community says, another word for social media is "evidence". It's more reasonable to anticipate any investigation will surely review all association communications, including social media, than to believe it's not going to matter or not be found. If association hard drives, servers and email have been subpoenaed for a very long time, why would any investigation skip the blog, text messages, Twitters, employee online rant, or Facebook site?

Of course social media needs to be subject to the same consideration of every other association program or way to communicate - the risk, liability, staff time, expense, interest of membership, etc. If it can't be printed in an association magazine, can't be discussed at an association meeting, can't be said to a member on the phone, can't be the subject of an association program ... then it really doesn't matter how much someone might want to rant it online instead or express their individual thoughts ... there are still conversations that qualify as "can't". And frankly, many of those laws are there for all the right reasons. They seek to protect the public from harm.

And as long as laws exist, then we have a job to do that recognizes the laws. Association integration of social media is necessary, but it's not an exception.

1 comment:

Jamie Notter said...

Hey Cindy. Thanks for the link, although I'm surprised that it is in a sentence that says bloggers suggest there is not a need to be concerned about legal issues, particularly liability. The last sentence in my post reads, "Questions of liability, anti-trust, or productivity won't go away, but we will probably ask (and, more importantly, answer) them differently."

Of course liability is real. It's a real concern. But it's not the only thing to think about, and I don't think it's the only piece of the fear/control issue in the association community, and that was the point I was trying to make.