I love the freedom of expression pervasive in social media. This relatively new means of expression and communication has given power to those who had little power in the past. Anyone now has a platform to express himself or herself. Everyone has the ability to critique and vent about organizations and people.
There is indeed a sense of liberation in the new world of social media. But some cautionary warning signals are being made lest we who love social media show little or no restraint in what we write, record, photograph, or video.
Growing Legal Concerns
Dana Rousmaniere noted in a recent Harvard Business Review article the growth of lawsuits against social media users. She cited the specific example of a critic of a homebuilder who vented her concerns online about the contractor. As a consequence the homebuilder went forward with a $750,000 defamation lawsuit, stating that the unsubstantiated complaint cost him significant business.
Rousmaniere said: “Free-speech advocates say the lawsuits are heavy-handed attempts to stifle critical — but valuable — consumer information. Business owners argue that a defamatory review can devastate a business. Lawyers say such cases are a cautionary tale for a new era: Those who feel targeted by defamation on the Web are more likely to file suit, and judges and juries are more likely to take such claims seriously than in years past, raising the legal stakes over vitriolic reviews, nasty blog comments and Facebook feuds.”
I have the opportunity to interact with business leaders often, and the issue of social media arises frequently. Almost every leader I’ve asked told me that checking a prospective employee’s use of social media is now standard before hiring someone. Social media background checks are thus becoming as common as legal checks and credit checks.
One business leader recently told me that his organization decided not to hire the son of a controversial blogger. I disagree with this guilt by association, but it does highlight the level of scrutiny that is taking place in the world of social media.
How Then Do We Respond?
The best path, it would seem, for those of us who engage in social media, is to use wisdom and common sense. We should not engage with a level of fear that precludes our honest exchange with others. At the same time, however, we should always write and say words that are factual and honest. Anytime I create a document, particularly one that will be put on the Internet, I assume that the document will get wide dissemination whether it does or not. I also assume my writing will always be available for others to see indefinitely.
I also try to follow the rule of not engaging social media while I am emotional or upset about something. I give myself a cooling off period, something that has proved beneficial on more than one occasion.
On other occasions, I ask others to preview what I wrote before I send it over the Internet. There are times frankly when I have not had sufficient self awareness to realize that the tone of my contribution could be construed in a way different than I intended.
I do indeed love the world of social media. From my perspective, this new world of communication has done much good for our society. But like any other instrument, something that it used for good can also be used in a harmful way. We who engage this world of social media should be certain that what we say and write is a positive contribution to the world and society.