Jason Falls

Jason Falls

We’re at a point in the evolution of the information age, the age of self-publishing, Web 2.0 or whatever we want to label where we are in our increasingly wired world, that, if we do not establish some parameters of behavior, we’ll lose it all. This notion struck me as I read an article by Maryclarie Dale of the Associated Press called, “Tweets Unwanted Twist At Trial.”

The article told the story of Eric Wuest, a juror in a Philadelphia trial who tweeted that the verdict in a high-profile criminal case was forthcoming. While he did not disclose information about the verdict, or the trial for that matter, he violated the normal judicial instructions to not disclose or discuss the trial at hand with anyone. Wuest didn’t get in trouble, other than to be given a stern talking to by the judge in the case, but he did something we as an on-line community need to understand and take a stand against.

Social media is not a special place on the Internet where rules and rights are blurred. Sure, U.S. and International law are far behind in providing fair protection and policing of the web. If a server is in Switzerland, did you post that libelous statement in Switzerland or in the comfort of your Silicon Valley office? Yes, there will forever be trolls and turds, black hat sneaks and cyber criminals who continually maneuver through the system, committing crimes and finding loopholes. But for the rest of us, the fair majority, we need to exercise a little bit of common sense.

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Twitter is not a forum where free speech can run rampant. Neither is Facebook or any other social forum, on-line or off. Eric Wuest probably minded his P’s and Q’s when chatting it up with friends at a Friday night cocktail hour. Why would he assume he didn’t have to on Twitter where everyone and their brother can see what he wrote?

I harken back to the key hang-up most people have with understanding social media or the Internet word. It’s not about the tools and the technology. It’s about a mechanism of communications. You aren’t allowed to communicate sensitive information about a trial if you’re a juror, or proprietary information about your companies business if you’re an employee. So why would you do it online? The rules still apply, even if the law is unclear about which ones apply where.

The first rule I give company employees when teaching them how to be representatives of their employer in their respective online spaces is, “Don’t be stupid.” Sure, I borrowed it from Flickr or Microsoft or some other list of guidelines, but it’s appropriate. Apply a different filter if you must: “When in doubt, don’t.”

Our interconnected world is reaching into unprecedented omnipresence. The thoughts and notions of random people are now being broadcast around the world in lightning speed. For most people, few will notice. But the fact that it’s there changes the impact and measure of one person’s opinions or experiences. It’s permanent. It’s indexed. It’s searchable. If it’s inappropriate or even illegal, you’ve shot yourself in the foot.

Eric Wuest probably should have been held in contempt of court. It would have sent a stronger message to all of us who love social media tools so. Mind your P’s and Q’s folks. If you don’t there will be repercussions. No matter how personal your space on these networks is, we can see it. It doesn’t just belong to you.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://www.theadvocates.com Dr. Richard Waites

    Thank you for this posting. Clearly, jurors' use of social media to conduct research about a case is causing quite a stir. Kansas, Colorado, New Jersey state or federal courts allow it. Georgia and other states do not. Post trial jury interviews show that despite court admonitions, jurors want to know everything they can about a case in order to make a decision they can be proud of. An admirable goal no doubt. As in the case of other jury trial innovations, we are likely headed toward eventually accepting this tendency of jurors since it is compulsive behavior that is not likely to cease with court instructions. Instead of trying to cure the problem with an instruction, we might try a brief training or orientation session with jurors to quell their desire to look for outside information. We would also be well advised to conduct advance research on the Web to identify the information and sources of information about the case that appear on the Web in order to see it before jurors do and deal with it directly in court.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thank you for this, Dr. Waites. Great thoughts here. Hopefully some
      legal scholars can weigh in. What you offered sounds good on my end.
      Training jurors on how to be effective and law-abiding in their
      efforts can't be bad and you're right: they won't stop using the
      technology available to them.

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