Jenny Afia - Partner and head of talent at Schillings – discusses the law & social media
It's tricky writing about social media and the law as the landscape is so mobile (in fact, the number of mobile devices in the world will shortly surpass the number of humans). So apologies if these views are already old- fashioned by the time you reach the end of the page.
The speed by which information proliferates via social media can be terrifying for those tasked with compliance and protecting reputations. Combined with the lack of jurisdiction, lawyers can be left feeling cyber-space is like outer-space. The Prince Harry photographs illustrate this perfectly. Even the country’s finest Beefeaters couldn’t prevent the world from seeing the Crown Jewels once they were published on a US gossip website.
In this fluctuating landscape, one certainty about a lawyers’ role has emerged; if you deal with social media then you need to be sociable
Primarily this means working closely with communications teams. For example, social media policies should be devised jointly. With no disrespect to others in my profession, we are not exactly known for coming up with snappy, easy to read text. There’s no point in having legally precise documents which will be immediately ignored. Equally, loads of management time can be wasted when brilliant policies are devised only to be undone at the end of the process with the question: “have you run it past legal?”.
A vital, yet often over-looked, aspect of a social media policy is a joint discussion between legal and comms about what the tolerance level for negative information will be; in other words, what will the business allow third parties and employees to say without responding to it. Policies should then be built around those tolerance levels. This holistic approach will allow for consistent responses, will enable those dealing with reputational issues to prioritise urgent matters and will help businesses save time and money by delegating authority safely.
Once such plans are in place, cyber-space actually becomes fairly navigable. Social media done well can allow people to influence what’s being said about them more than ever before. That's why artists like Lady Gaga and Madonna are increasingly choosing not to do traditional media interviews to promote new work but instead 'speaking' directly to fans.
The other way which lawyers need to be sociable is in thinking not just about the business or person they are acting for, but also about the people around them. How are they using social media? Are they making information publicly available that will horrify clients if they know about it? Lawyers tend to avoid considering these issues, instead just focusing on the immediate client. Yet numerous problems could easily be avoided if they did.
You might say we need to get nosier, I prefer thinking we just need to be more social.