Hullabaloo over social media legal issues rears its head yet again in the association world.
Here is the deal folks: if your association tends to get sued or investigated over the comments of your members or staff every few years, then sponsoring participatory media activities may enhance that risk. For everyone else, get over it.
I am not a lawyer, therefore I can actually offer common sense advice about the online world.
I appreciate the Dune reference, David!
It seems to me that some of the concern about legal risks involved in social media is like being concerned about your airplane crashing (and I say this as a very nervous flyer). The fear isn’t based on how likely the event is to occur, it’s based on the severity of the consequences if it did happen … so the fact that such a catastrophic event is even slightly possible is enough to create a disproportionate amount of concern.
Yet we all still get on airplanes, don’t we? Apt comparison.
Nothing to be afraid of. Only something to be aware of.
Lisa and David, I don’t mean to disagree with you, but your comparison above is not precisely the same thing. The safety of airplanes is well established over many decades so our fear of disaster is almost entirely irrational. The risk of legal difficulty created by social media is quite small but still unsettled, as the very fact of the lawsuit against Craigslist reveals. So, while the fear of legal repercussions may be misplaced, it is certainly not irrational.
I definitely get what you’re saying, Jeff. I think what I was trying to say with my comparison is that, when you’re addressing a fear, it’s important to understand what the person is really afraid of: Is it how likely his/her organization is to be sued? Or how terrible the results could be if they were sued and lost?
That said, I think you’re correct in your analysis–right now, in many cases the fear is as much about not knowing the rules and not knowing how liable you really are as it is about the fear of a catastrophic loss if a lawsuit is lost.
There is nothing certain in life or business. Prepare as best you can but don’t let unfounded fear stop you from moving forward.
If associations can find some way to put on large events involving thousands of people and millions of dollars in revenue without being sued out of existence, I think they can do the same with social media.
In my own defense, this whole line of blog posts was never about “fear” of social media. I just wanted to point out that the potential exists for legal issues to arise, and that associations should make sure they’ve got their bases covered. (See Ben, above.)