Who Owns Social Media?

HMV-StaffTakeoverNew Orleans     If you’re lucky, you’ve never had to give any of this a second thought, but increasingly social media has blurred the lines between personal, political, and business, and forced the classic question about property:  who owns what?  There are blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and god knows what else, and when it’s working, it’s working well, but what happens when there’s a bump in the road, a business disagreement, or a bankruptcy?  The social media companies are very little help and often either obscure or worse, irresponsible, in how they deal with all of this and the courts and lawyers are only recently getting in the game, so it is worth thinking about this now, even though it may already be too late for many.  In the newness of the media, we all jumped in feet first, leaping now, and looking later. 

            Twitter is without a doubt the worse since their communication skills are limited to 149 characters it seems in all transactions.  The number of Twitter users is always suspect because passwords are linked to email addresses, and forgetting one means death to the other and the account, forcing another account with another random email address and starting the cycle all over again for many.  In the early days, some young eager beaver might have seized the opportunity or for that matter been asked by some doddering soul of forty or higher to “yeah, sure, go ahead and open one of those ‘tweet’ things.”  Years later the staffer or volunteer is gone, it now seems more important to actually deal with the account, and no one can remember what and whatnot. 

            We run into these problems frequently with the volunteer armies that keep our noncommercial radio stations on a forward line of march.  We had a great Facebook account for KABF that started as a so-called personal account and hit the maximum of 5000 friends before Facebook changed to “fan” pages.  Eventually, we were able to post on the account, but no matter how many times we entreat them, they will not honor the fact that KABF is the owner of the KABF account, so we can’t administer it, and were forced to start anew two years ago.  DJs, enthusiastic about their shows or leaders enthusiastic about their local groups, start Facebook accounts on their own that sprout up like weeds in the garden.  Does it build the organization or the station or siphon interest and support away into side channels and still bayous off of the mainstream?  Both in all likelihood, and trying to rein them in often breeds the worst results, even though everyone agrees it is important to speak with one voice and protect your so-called “brand.”  Once we even had to fight to get back on own website domain, sheesh!

           To keep up with the sites, a kneejerk reaction becomes to make lots of people administrators in order to feed the beast.  On Facebook that can be a disaster.  Any administrator can suddenly evict any other administrator from the site just on their say so without a nevermind it seems to the entity which owns it all and is responsible for the content.  Yikes!  And, Facebook is no help in resolving this.  We eventually discovered, thanks to our webmaster’s diligent research, that you can have one administrator and give “privileges” to others, so we’ve changed that on all of our sites, but how many know about that hidden nugget of information.

            A gun store owner in Texas recently spent seven weeks in jail because he refused to turn over the business Facebook and Twitter accounts to a partner acquiring the outfit after a bankruptcy, claiming he had used the accounts as a personal soapbox and his speech was being silence.  A South Carolina internet company sued a former employee for taking a Twitter account with 17,000 followers with him when he left, costing them thousands.  In Pennsylvania, a federal court had to get into the mess with a woman and her former employer over who owned the Linked-In account.  Discussions about all of this largely uncharted intellectual property ownership with Doug Young, our Austin-based attorney, give him huge migraines, he reports.

            My advice:  this is a mess, so best straighten it out now BEFORE there are problems.  Just saying.


Silicon System of Selling Personal Information for Profit is Under Attack

New Orleans    
The cult of Silicon Valley reigns supreme in these times.  The moguls of Facebook, Google, Linked-In and the rest have become the 21st century of the auto barons of Detroit in the 20th.  They are at the center of the financial pages, fashion shows, and political pundit speculations.  They are worldwide ambassadors of the new American message of innovation and business prowess.  Recently Google officials were the first US corporate ambassadors visiting both Burma and North Korea with our new message of peace and prosperity.   The world is captivated by their tools, searching, posting, tweeting, and networking to create the coming paradigms of the future.

We love the fact that all of this is often free, not the hardware, like our computers, but we often lull ourselves into thinking the rest of it has no cost.   Why should we think about the business model that drives all of this, especially since that story is a less stylist and nostalgic story of the “Mad Men” of Madison Avenue.    Monetizing these free and fun internet tools, as the Siliconers say, is all about advertising, and frankly, as too few realize, we pay for that with our privacy, sold to unknown bidders to try to sell us tons of stuff.

A coming struggle in the California legislature may bring this story more attention than Silicon Valley wants.  A bill by a Long Beach assembly woman would force, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal “internet companies, upon request, share with Californians personal information they have collected – including buying habits, physical location, and sexual orientation – and what they have passed on to third parties such as marketing companies, app makers, and other companies that collect and sell data.”

Various Silicon oriented industry groups are predictably saying that this will retard innovation, I guess for advertisers and their soap and suds companies, and of course will cost them more money.  European regulators already require a ton more disclosure about personal information kept by Google, Facebook, and the like.  Facebook when confronted by earlier investigations of how much they give over to their app folks, claimed they have limits, but of course without legislation like this, they are not required to disclose information about their “over sharing.”

The ACLU is all over this at least in California and has mobilized their members to write the companies and ask about their information.  Frankly, believing that California will bite the Silicon Valley hand that feeds it seems unrealistic, almost as unrealistic as believing that all of these modern toys are really free.  Other states need to take the lead on this issue.  Nonetheless it is one thing to pay the piper, and quite another to not even be allowed to know how much we are paying.

Please click for the Silicon Valley Report on the Radio.