Social Media and the Law seminar

Back in April of this year, Andrew Scott-Howman (specialist employment law barrister with Port Nicholson Chambers and co-author of Workface) and I delivered a New Zealand Law Society seminar series on Social Media and the Law.

We discussed three main topics: I discussed “your and your clients’ use of social media for business purposes: a lifecycle approach”, Andrew then discussed “employer and employee use of social media: an employment law perspective”, and I then discussed “third party use of social media against organisations and staff: legal and practical remedies” (also touching on “reform and the future” at the end).

I’ve been meaning to get a post up about the seminar for a while. Without further ado, I’ve set out the Introduction from the seminar booklet below, followed by the presentation we used if anyone would like to browse through it. If you’re interested in the full booklet, feel free to let me know through our contact form.

The Introduction from the seminar booklet

Social media is changing our world. A grandiose opening statement, perhaps, but it’s true. It’s supplementing and in many cases changing the way we interact with friends, colleagues, customers, businesses, citizens and constituents.

New Zealand is playing its part in this online (r)evolution. The Department of Internal Affairs’ recent publication Social Media in Government: High-level Guidance (November 2011) sets out some illuminating statistics about social media use in New Zealand from a July 2010 Nielsen study, including these:

  • 1 million New Zealanders are interacting via social networking sites;
  • 82% of New Zealand internet users have visited Facebook;
  • 70% of New Zealand internet users have a Facebook profile;
  • the biggest increases in social media usage are in reading wikis (up 26%), updating and creating social networking profiles (up 17% & 16% respectively) and looking at others’ social networking profiles (up 16%);
  • more than one quarter of New Zealanders (27%) have visited Twitter, and 11% have created Twitter profiles;
  • 44% of New Zealand Twitter users have ‘followed’ companies or brands via Twitter;
  • more than two in five New Zealanders (42%) are interacting with companies via social networking sites;
  • 44% have published opinions about products, services and brands; and
  • nearly 2 million online New Zealanders have looked to their fellow internet users for opinions and information about products, services and brands.

With the rapid increase in social media use, in 2012 these figures are likely to be significantly higher.

Our elected representatives are in on the act too. In February 2011 it was reported that the “majority of New Zealand members of Parliament (MPs) have at least one online social media account on the most popular online social media sites used by New Zealanders.”

Internationally, the figures are astounding. In February 2012 it was reported that:

  • Facebook has over 845 million users;
  • Twitter has over 500 million users;
  • LinkedIn has 150 million members; and
  • Google+ has over 90 million users.

It has also been reported that Twitter users welcomed 2012 “with 16,000 tweets-per-second, more than doubling last year’s record” and that “82% of the world’s online population are determined to be reached by social networking sites, representing 1.2 billion users around the world”.

The massive growth in social media makes it inevitable that it will, in some shape or form, touch the daily lives of our clients and of our own practices and businesses. It may do so:

  • for business reasons: we or our clients may deploy social media strategies to better reach and obtain feedback from customers;
  • for employment reasons: organisations may use it to search for information on job applicants, it may affect them when employees have a go at them online or they may even monitor employees’ public online activities;
  • for reasons of public participation: government agencies may use it to increase consultation with citizens, obtain expert input on policy development and generally bolster participatory decision-making; and
  • for adverse reasons: anonymous bloggers and other online belligerents may use it to defame, to infringe, to harass, to divulge, to commit contempt, to injure or, in some cases, to hate.

The law has a role to play in all these areas. In this paper we canvas some of the common respects in which social media and the law intersect. For the most part, it’s a matter of applying established law to a mixture of known and evolving circumstances. On some issues, the New Zealand Courts are yet to speak definitively or we are faced with statutory provisions of uncertain ambit. Whatever the case, it’s a fascinating place for lawyers to be.

The Presentation

(Click on the “More” button and then “Fullscreen” to see the presentation at a decent size and resolution.)

As I’ve said above, drop me a line if you’re interested in the full seminar booklet.

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