Microsoft’s social media chatbot, ‘Tay’, has highlighted to all that while social media provides us with enormous potential, it is only as good as the people who use it.
As someone once said: ‘This mode of instantaneous communication must inevitably become an instrument of immense power, to be wielded for good or for evil, as it shall be properly or improperly directed’. That someone was Samuel Morse (pictured), writing in 1838 about the telegraph system.
New technology usually brings as many new problems as the opportunities it creates – and social media is no exception. The particular challenge of social media is that the lines between the personal and the professional are becoming increasingly blurred, and the potential for things to ‘go viral’ is both the biggest advantage and the biggest concern relating to Web 2.0.
Social Media in the Workplace is a valiant attempt by the authors to take stock of the legal ramifications of the use of social media. It recognises that the problems thrown up by social media are not new, but stresses the need for employers to be prepared for how to deal with those problems in the modern workplace. It is comprehensive, dealing with every issue that employers could face – from harassment to difficulties over intellectual property rights. It even touches on how the Family Law Act 1996 might apply where couples who work together do not stay together.
Authors: Chris Bryden, Michael Salter
£65, Jordan Publishing
As well as providing good synopses of the relevant cases, the authors succinctly summarise existing legal principles and show how they might apply to social media, given the relative lack of appellate authority. There is also an interesting chapter on comparative laws, exploring how other jurisdictions have approached the issues raised by social media.
As well as making many well thought through points on the legal implications of social media, the book offers a wealth of practical advice. Each chapter contains a checklist of dos and don’ts, and the authors include precedent documents, templates and flowcharts. One of the chapters is a case study, with some useful tips on pleadings and witness statements.
The book, however, is not without its flaws. There are some slightly jarring contentions – such as the suggestion that it should not prove too contentious to require employees to enter into a contract in which they offer up all their usernames and passwords for work-related social media accounts. A survey on internet usage from 2004 seems wholly irrelevant, given how much has changed in the last 12 years. Considering the intended audience is likely to, on the whole, pride itself on its pedantry, the book contains a surprisingly large number of distracting typos.
Overall, though, this is a useful and practical guide to the potential issues facing employers. It pulls together many different strands and weaves them into a comprehensive summary of the current law. Recommended.
Will Winch is managing associate at Mishcon de Reya, London