Social Media: Whassup? You know, Legally?

The attached is a presentation I gave at the Food Marketing Association Legal Conference in San Antonio.

We had a good time and covered lots of topics. At the end of the day, we hit upon a few important take-away pieces of information:

1. The Social Networking/Social Media (“SM”) boom is not going away. People are going to find more ways to communicate digitally, and as the world’s psychographic changes (younger people start coming into adulthood), vendors who don’t assimilate SM into their plans are going to be left behind.
2. Currently, the legal issues are the same ones we’ve been addressing for the past few years with regard to blogging, domain hosting and user-generated content (third party trademark use; defamatory statements, hijacking of profiles, etc.).
3. In the long run, current law is going to require some tweaks, and we’re beginning to see them (be patient):
— The FTC has already come out with new “affiliate marketing/testimonial” guidelines (clear response to “fake” social networking sites).
– Likely change in SM sites will be clear disclosure of company-sponsored social sites (right now, if you get “busted” for fabricating a site, you’ve just got egg on your face). Legislation likely coming relating to origin.
– Affiliate SM sites likely to have to disclose that they have been paid for their testimonials. This is consistent with existing law regarding testimonials, but not currently enforced.
4. As technology advances, a greater burden will be placed on ISPs to protect against access by children; on the flip-side, parents are going to have to take more responsibility for what their kids are doing online.
The sky is not falling (see my last slide of “babies-booze-betamax”):
– People still (generally) make babies the same way, so online social networking will not replace direct communication.
– Young people will quickly learn how to interact, and in a difficult job market, interpersonal skills will separate out those who don’t have them.
– When new technologies are brought forth, some folks imbibe to excess. Much like the steep rise in alcoholism after prohibition, social mores and legislation over time made most folks use alcohol sensibly; the same thing is true for technology.
– Lawyers out there: relax and take a philosophical view: the fear that everything as we know it will change is unfounded (remember, we thought that the BetaMax would make real-time TV and advertising obsolete). Things will change slowly and over time, but companies will be able to get out their message.

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