Social media has fast become the primary source of communication among Americans. With this evolution comes an implication of perceived rights and privileges. One of the most important concepts to individuals in American society is the “right to privacy.” Although, technically, we are not given a constitutional right to privacy, it is a value that many take very seriously.
Facebook and Twitter are realms in which people share their lives, both personally and professionally. This creates a dilemma in the sense that privacy is not an immediate concern, until an issue arises. With the many updates to Facebook have come the evolvements of privacy settings. Allowing users to control the flow of information presented to the world. The newest social platform, Google + has taken the privacy concept a step further by allowing users to hand pick the people in which information is directed to. These changes are strides in the right direction; however, the awareness of these options is not widely recognized.
Another issue that is prevalent in the social media world is the rise in libel. Many people use social media platforms for personal purposes. This leads to sharing opinions, opinions that at times can cause harm to others, leading to libel which leads to legal inferences. Although many users of social media are young adults, this is a serious matter that should not be taken lightly. I expect to see a rise in the number of cases brought to court over social media libel. Although the first Facebook libel case was presented and thrown out this past summer, I expect to see many more in the next few years. Something else individuals should keep in mind is the fact that once something is written it can be permanent. According to the blog Splendid Communications, once you delete a post on Facebook, it can still be accessed. This is something that lawyers will probably use in future cases.
Social media etiquette or being grammatically responsible when dealing with others online is imperative and might possibly need to be taught in high school or middle school for future generations to understand the seriousness of the matter. Perhaps there should be a rulebook for people on the usage of social media, but until that day individuals must regulate themselves. The first step in this process, and perhaps the most important, is knowing what libel is and what is considered defamatory. Although blogs are used as a medium for self-expression they are also viewed as places where people go to get information and often times use the content as if it were concrete fact. In my opinion, the burden for regulation and choosing words carefully is most pressing for bloggers.
There have been many situations in which one’s actions online have come back to haunt them in real life. A personal experience of mine revolves around friend who was injured at a club on New Years Eve a few years back. She was a recent college graduate and had not removed any pictures from her college party years. When she sued the club for her medical bills, the defense lawyers attempted to paint a picture of her as a heavy-drinking party girl, which she was not. They even went as far as to take pictures from her Facebook account (some of which I was in) and blow them up to display in the courtroom. Upon entering the court my friend was shocked to find pictures from Halloween and other “fun nights on Fry street.” This is a great example of the importance of privacy settings on Facebook and controlling the content you share with the world.
Professionally, public relations specialists need to inform clients of the ramifications of the words used online. Companies can get into grey areas when writing about competition or other companies, even on their personal pages, especially if they are publically associated with a certain company.
The power of words expressed online has been very evident in recent months with the rise in suicides because of online bullying. The social and other media campaigns that have been launched in response show the benefits and the influence of the new medium. Overall, individuals should approach their online presence the same way they approach every day life. The decisions we make online are no different and have the same consequences as those in real life.