December 12, 2012

– Facebook – Twitter – LinkedIn…Becoming a tangled web –

Just in case you had any lingering doubt about the power of social media, consider the following:

On July 3rd of this year, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings posted to his Facebook page that Netflix subscribers “had enjoyed over 1 billion hours” of content in June. Justifiably proud of this accomplishments why wouldn’t he be all over that through Social Media right? Well, regrettably, it doesn’t always work out the way one intends. Here is a reporting of that story – it’s really worth reading (some catch up certainly needs to happen here if you ask me with social media vis-a-vis business regulations – come on here people!!)

So here’s the story. Now comes word that the US Securities and Exchange Commission has investigated this matter, and is considering civil charges against both Hastings and Netflix. Their claim? Netflix violated the “Fair Disclosure” Regulation, which regulates the manner in which publicly traded companies are expected to disclose any information which may be of interest to investors.

Curiously, the company had already reported essentially the same information in its blog, just a few days earlier in June. The SEC doesn’t seem to have a problem with the blog post, just with the Facebook comments. Mr. Reed’s Facebook page has approximately 200,000 followers, which apparently isn’t enough to meet the SEC’s definition of “broad disclosure.” More curiously, this is by no means the first time that CEO’s and other executives with a variety of companies have used social media to disclose similar information.

Interesting….What is new here, I suspect, is that the SEC has been looking for a “test case” to help define the law in this area. This is going to become a trend, as governments, regulatory agencies and other “watchdogs” pay more and more attention to social media, and begin to weigh in on questions of privacy, security, and civil damage.

So what’s my point? Just this: social media has become so powerful, so pervasive, and so closely watched, that we all need to be careful when we use it. Naturally, we already know not to publicise any confidential or sensitive information, and we make every reasonable effort not to post anything which may cause injury or upset to anyone. But social media is (or should be) a free forum to express oneself and press brand awareness.

What we now also need to consider is that legislators, the courts, regulators, and other “watchdog” groups are scrambling to catch up with this rapidly evolving social trend, and the water might get muddier before it gets clearer. As with so many things these days, we live in an age of increasing confusion, and we need to get adept at managing that confusion.

Remember the old adage “if you’re in front of a microphone, assume it is on, and whatever you say is being recorded.” These days, a better guideline would be: “whenever you are in public, assume you are on camera, and your voice and image are being recorded.” Similarly, you need to assume that when it comes to social media, you can expect increasing scrutiny of the value, but also the appropriateness, of  what one says.

Thank you to guest blogger Fergus Murphy (Murphytalks) for his comments on the tightrope we now walk in Social Media



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