Professional Ethics and Social Media-The Law
Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and other forms of social media are rapidly becoming a vital form of communication worldwide. This trend impacts not only how people share information informally, but also has implications for the professions. In the world of law, social media and online activity are bringing up new issues of ethics and integrity. This topic was discussed at SMU’s “Professional Ethics and Social Media: Like?” conference, held last week in Dallas. Project Zero Research Director Carrie James was invited to give the keynote address at the conference, discussing topics including the moral and ethical dimensions of digital life and what can we do in education and training of young professionals to prepare them to handle social media ethically.
Following her address, there was a panel discussion including a physician, a lawyer, and a pastor. Each member of the panel had experienced or observed ethical dilemmas and challenges in their work related to online life, and shared their insights on their choices and thoughts when confronting these issues. In this blog series, we will share some insights from these professionals..
John Browning, a lawyer and author of The Lawyers Guide to Social Networking, opened the panel with his view that the law is currently unable to keep pace with innovations in technology. He also suggested that new media create both opportunities and challenges. For example, the internet allows clients to research their rights and legal methods, but also serves to complicate the position of jurors. Many cases nationwide have emerged in which jurors have violated the integrity of the law with online conduct: jurors looking up information online pertaining to the case, and sometimes referencing the wrong state for laws, thus leading to mistrials; jurors using Facebook to ask friends to respond to a poll as to how they should vote on the case. As a result, Browning explained, new guidelines have been put in place for jurors about their online conduct.
Browning also raised issues of misuse of social media tools and the legal questions that have followed. As usage of Twitter, Facebook, and blogs have become more prevalent means of communicating legal questions have been raised about whether one can expect privacy for one’s online content. For instance, the question of whether status updates on social media accounts could be used as admissible evidence in cases where employees are claiming sickness, depression, or other ailments while their updates suggest otherwise has been raised in recent court cases.
Case by case, our legal notions of privacy and free speech are being confronted by the new realities presented as people share more of their lives online. Browning believes that there is a need for social media policies in companies, firms, and organizations to guide employees’ online conduct. On the other hand, many are wary of enforcing policies governing online activity as they could easily become a form of censorship and viewed as prohibition of free speech for employees.
The key questions that emerge: Do we need a new set of rules to guide our behavior online? Do we need to have a new set of rules for how online evidence is treated? Should the law treat content posted by minors differently – just as criminal transgressions by youth are?
What are your reactions and thoughts on the issues?
Stay tuned for a video from the conference in the next few weeks!