Perils and potential of social media
Is the cost of social media really free? Several experts at the University of Florida would say that using social media in an inappropriate and irresponsible manner, and not planning ahead, could come at a substantial cost.
More than 110 guests attended the seminar on Jan. 22 in the Chesterfield Smith Ceremonial classroom at the UF College of Law, and hundreds more watched the online broadcast. It featured a panel of legal and other professionals and experts, including Jon L. Mills, founding and current director of the Center for Governmental Responsibility, professor of law and dean emeritus of UF Law; Lyrissa Lidsky, UF Stephen C. O’Connell chair and professor of law; Susan Blair, UF chief privacy officer; Barbara Wingo, UF associate vice president and first deputy general counsel; Paula Fussell, UF vice president of human resource services; and Jane Adams, UF vice president for university relations.
“We are indeed lucky to have panel with this breadth of experience and expertise,” Mills said.
A common theme was though social media provides many benefits, it also has repercussions that may be costly to a person’s privacy, safety and employment opportunities.
Mills began the seminar with discussion of four specific aspects at the crux of the social media debate — the concept of gossip, wide dissemination of information due to the technology, the issue of public records, and personal carelessness. He focused on importance of understanding the technology that gives social media its power.
“The future is difficult because the law and policy have not caught up, even remotely, with technology. And the prospects of it catching up are not good,” Mills said. “We just have to understand the reality of what we are doing — that even if you think the law protects you, it may not, and that abuses and negligence are the things that are beyond technology, the law and policy.”
As an admitted avid user of social media, Lidsky noted the ability of the social media to sponsor a vested community.
“One of the beauties of Facebook is the sense of responsiveness it engenders,” Lidsky said. “You are serving your constituents when you are available to them on Facebook, perhaps to answer questions, or to deal with common policy issues that arise. And one of the best things about Facebook is the immense interactivity, which fosters a sense of community.”
She also described the specific rights that Web site or page administrators have to edit or remove material and communications posted on the site based on the type of fora — whether public forum, non-public or outlet for government speech — that has been created. In a public university setting, the Facebook page should be set up as a non-public forum to allow for some control of postings while facilitating the largely free exchange of ideas.
As UF’s chief privacy officer, Blair provided helpful tips on how to avoid making specific privacy violations that could occur under such laws as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) or the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), citing awareness of the requirements of these laws as key to preventing privacy violations.
With the broad array of legal topics on which she is versed, Wingo’s presentation touched on several aspects of using social media and networking Web sites, from copyright and trademark law to open meetings laws, and when posting to social media must be considered of public record. She noted the marked lack of policies prepared by universities on the appropriate and effective use of social media — the lack of which was one reason behind UF’s decision to host the seminar.
“It is actually very surprising how few universities have formulated policies on these social media. And the few that are out there, that are public, are probably as confused as we are as to where we should go with this whole issue,” Wingo said. “We are actually formulating a disclaimer, something that you can post on your Facebook pages, that we think will take a middle ground,” she said.
At the heart of Fussell’s presentation were the long-term implications that the sharing of inappropriate and non-professional photos and postings can have on current and potential employment opportunities.
There is something about social media that enables us to post things online we would not publish in a newspaper or say out loud to someone’s face, Fussell said.
In wrapping up the presentation, Adams discussed the power and potential of social media to connect individuals and allow for increased engagement on topics of specific interest to viewers and users. She noted that UF was a leader in the use of social media for business purposes, and reviewed a number of UF sites.
In all, the panel seemed united on the idea that stopping and thinking a little more before sharing those comments and photos could save us from many of the costly retributions, and instead, allow us to enjoy the promises of social media rather than its pitfalls.
“We all understand the complexity and the contradictory nature of social networks,” said Mills. “It’s a great opportunity to be able to share ourselves and to share information with others. We just have to understand the reality of what we are doing.”
The seminar grew out of the work of the University of Florida Strategic Communications Planning Committee, chaired by UF Law Communications Director Debra Amirin. For more information or to view the archived video, visit http://strategiccommunications.law.ufl.edu
Jon Mills’ tips for using social media:
- Define your goals and the audience with which you want to network
- Understand the law as it relates to your goals and audiences
- Understand how technology and reality impact implementation of your goals
Susan Blair’s privacy considerations for faculty members:
- Model appropriate behavior
- Do not share confidential or restricted information online
- Avoid unprofessional behavior violates university policy
- Do not post risky pictures
- Beware of “meat puppets” – individuals posting to your page with ulterior motives
- Consider and implement all privacy protections available to you
- Understand the terms and conditions of Facebook
For more information on the university’s privacy policies and procedures, visit the UF Privacy Office Web site at http://privacy.ufl.edu/pandp.html.
Barbara Wingo’s Tips
- Assume that nothing is private, everything is public
- Assume that existing laws apply to social media
For more information about the university’s regulations and policies regarding acceptable use and intellectual property policies, visit the UF Office of the Vice President and General Counsel’s Web site at www.generalcounsel.ufl.edu/regulations/.