Social Media: Brand Builder or Mind Poison?

A recent interview on ESPN’s radio show Mike & Mike (you can find an article and podcast here) featured two prominent NCAA basketball coaches, John Calipari and Rick Pitino. On paper, these two coaches couldn’t be similar; age (only 6 years apart), coaches at powerhouse basketball schools (University of Kentucky and Louisville separated by only 75 miles), banners (three championships and 11 Final Four appearances between the two, although two of Calipari’s appearances have since been vacated) and the list could go on. While their knowledge and love for the game of basketball may be similar, their view on social media is vastly different.

Pitino referred to social media as a “poison” on his players and he bans them from using sites like Twitter while Calipari refers to social media as a brand builder and goes as far as to encourage his players to participate and use social media platforms. These opposite stances on social media couldn’t be a better illustration of why there is so much debate when it comes to the NCAA and its regulation of social media. You have some coaches prohibiting players from using social media and others promoting the use and regardless of the stance of its coaches, the schools continue to shell out the dough to monitor its players use of social media. If that isn’t a clear example of mixed signals then I don’t know what is.

Many schools, like UK and Louisville, spend tens of thousands of dollars to use monitoring software systems that flag certain keywords and content being used in a post or tweet. The athletes actually must agree to let the school monitor its social media use as a precondition to participate in their respective sports. Some legal scholars view this as a clear violation to the athletes’ First Amendment right to free speech and those views have gained traction as some states have prohibited schools from monitoring the social media accounts of its athletes. The NCAA has encouraged schools to monitor its student athletes on social media sites and in response we have state legislatures passing laws to ban the schools from doing so; another example of how far off we are from some type of amicable resolution.

People are entitled to their own opinions about social media, but we run into problems when those differing opinions lead to ambiguous regulations and policies. It’s hard to say which side has the better argument or if monitoring student-athlete social media accounts is warranted in the first place, but it’s clear that this issue is far from being resolved.

Yelp! at Your Own Risk

What is Yelp?

Yelp, Inc. is an American company that operates an “online urban guide” and business review site. The company’s website began as an email service for exchanging local business recommendations and later introduced social networking features, discounts, and mobile applications.[i] The company’s website contains a discussion forum and other social networking features. It requires reviewers to register and encourages them to create a user profile. It offers “praise and attention” to user reviewers plus special status and social events for its most popular, prolific and “elite” members.[ii]

Simple enough, right? So what’s all the fuss about?

It has become increasingly apparent that writing Yelp reviews may land you in some hot water, which begs the question “Why would writing a negative review get me sued?” The site asks for users to write honest, first-hand accounts of what their experience was like. Yet, when that honest review turns out to be negative/critical, some business owners may not take it so lightly. In the last week or so there have been at least two lawsuits dealing with Yelp reviews, which actually bookend the spectrum of potential outcomes arising from disgruntled reviews. On one end of the spectrum is a review that stated a contractor damaged and stole the reviewer’s property.[iii] The jury came back with a guilty verdict for defamation.[iv] On the other end of the spectrum was a review of a local dentist, who attempted to sue for defamation, but his claim was dismissed referencing California’s Anti-SLAPP Law.[v]

Ok, so the Anti-SLAPP Laws will protect me then?

Not necessarily. California provides a special motion to strike strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs), which is intended to put a quick end to nonmeritorious lawsuits designed to suppress speech on a matter of public concern.[vi] Public reviews of businesses, health care, restaurants and any other type of service provider, have been around since the first customer was served. Services like Yelp have made the dissemination of these reviews readily available to anyone willing to read them. One would think that every state would have an Anti-SLAPP statute protecting the public, but that is not the case, as 21 states have not enacted an Anti-SLAPP law.[vii] One of those states, Virginia, was home to the first review I mentioned where the defendant was found guilty of defamation after being sued by her contractor. Would an Anti-SLAPP statute have helped her? Should every state have a statute similar to California? It’s tough to say, but one could easily make the argument that Anti-SLAPP laws unnecessarily expand our First Amendment Rights.


[i] Yelp, Inc., wikipedia.org, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yelp,_Inc (last visited February 8, 2014).

[ii] Id.

[iii] Perez v. Dietz Development LLC, Va. Cir. Ct., CL 2012-16249, jury verdict 1/31/14.

[iv] Id.

[v] Rahbar v. Batoon, Cal. Ct. App., No. A136463, unpublished 1/31/14.

[vi] 23 HLR 221 (Issue No. 6, 02/06/14).

[vii] Public Participation Project, Anti-Slapp.org, http://www.anti-slapp.org/your-states-free-speech-protection/ (last visited February 8, 2014).

Employer’s Attempts to Limit Employee Speech – and the NLRB’s Response

This semester, I’m writing about how social media has changed/is changing the face of employment discrimination law suits. In that vein, here’s an article from the NYTimes about how employers have attempted to limit employee speech online – regulations which have clashed with union advocates and federal regulations.

 

France to prohibit the use of #hashtags

It amazing to see just how far the French Government is willing to go to prevent Anglicization of its country. A French governmental commission, charged with assuring that Anglican words and traditions don’t infiltrate its boarders, has directed that all official French government legislation and correspondence use the word mot-diese, (meaning sharp word) in place of the familiar hashtag.   A few years back the French government was successful in changing the word email to courriel, and so there is no reason to think that the new word for hashtag might just catch on beyond the governmental mandate.  Interesting to see just how far a country can go in mandating language, without the cloak of the Constitution as a bar.

 

“Social Media” Speech Protected at work

After we all agreed that we use social media as a way to vent about the life of a law student it makes sense that most people like to do the same thing by venting on fbook. It is good that people can have a sense of group therapy without having to fear they might lose their job. Apparently, the NLRB feels the same way!  An NY Times article concerning the NLRB’s series of decisions can be found here.