Who Owns Social Media?

Ideas and Issues

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.