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Last week I was honored to participate on a lively panel discussion at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology’s Social Medial Summit in front of a sold out audience at the school’s beautiful facilities.

The panel, called Twittervention: Social Media & Legal Issues for Employers, Educators & Parents covered many legal issues for users, businesses, employees and employers.

Click the photo for link to video (panel discussion begins at the 18 minute mark) and see summary below from one of our firm interns who was an audience member.

(C) 2010 Harrisburg University of Science and Technology

Firm intern Sarah Cho, a 3rd year law student at University of New Hampshire School of Law, attended the panel and offers the following summary of the discussion:

  • On September 13, 2010, Pennsylvania’s Harrisburg University of Science and Technology began a week-long social experiment (with a hint of publicity stunt) by banning access to social media websites through its Internet network.  (See NPR story here.)  While preventing employees and students on campus from Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace, Harrisburg University concurrently held a day-long Social Media Summit on September 15th involving panel discussions on the benefits and risks of online social interaction.
  • I had the opportunity to attend the first presentation entitled, “Twittervention: Social Media & Legal Issues for Employers, Educators & Parents.”  The panelists were exclusively lawyers practicing in the areas of education law, trademark law, and employment law.  Naturally flowing from a dialogue among the legal community to lay people, the presentation conveyed information about precedential case law involving digital social interaction bleeding into the courtroom after having non-digital repercussions.
  • When the panelists were asked what they defined as a ‘good social media policy,’ employment attorney Thomas Rees of High Swartz LLP strongly advocated for a highly, restrictive policy in which all employees were prohibited from personal, social websites including blogging services.  Adam L. Santucci of McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC, also an employment attorney, pushed a more moderate policy.  Rather than giving employees a general list of “no’s,” or restricted websites, Santucci pushed increased awareness and education of the risks of online behavior.  Santucci’s suggestions included reminding people points of basic etiquette such as speaking respectfully while on the World Wide Web and exercising careful, and good judgment in uploading any information – particularly photos – onto the Internet.  Amy Foerster, Special Council with Saul Ewing LLP’s Harrisburg office and education law attorney, poignantly noted liability for the actions of students or employees is an issue of content, and not the medium.
  • Trademark attorney, Erik M. Pelton of Erik M. Pelton & Associates, PLLC emphasized that just as people should be informed before entering into agreements in the non-digital world, they should do so online.  Social media website requires its users to agree to terms of use, which many or most users ignore. Pelton advocated reading and understanding those click-through agreements that most users mechanically scroll through.  Many of these terms of use agreements, in fact, set the standard for propriety in addition to establishing an intellectual property arrangement between users and the Internet service provider.  Pelton stated, “Depending on the terms of use you agree to, you may be sharing all of your copyright” or other intellectual property with the website.
  • While restricting students, employees, and the general public from social media websites is unlikely with recent statistics testifying to widespread use and popularity and the increasing ease of access through a variety of devices, the panel’s general theme encouraged Internet users to be cautious, and particularly cautious when acting as employees or employers. Given the ever increasing sensational reports of students, employees, schools, employers, and others disciplined for conduct on social media sites, the true innovation will occur when Internet users actually begin to practice cautiousness.

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