ENTERTAINMENT LITIGATION: THE SOCIAL NETWORKING CRAZE

PRIVACY AND ACCURACY ARE AT RISK WITH ABILITY TO INSTANTLY COMMUNICATE

Technology and the explosion of social networking sites are changing the paradigm of how and when we communicate with each other. Facebook, YouTube and the most recent craze, Twitter, together with rapidly improving camera/video cellular phone technology, allow instant communication to thousands of people. Communication that includes pictures and video, as well as text.

The potential uses for these expanding media are seemingly endless. The question is — is that a good thing?

SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES

Not that long ago, if asked, I would have had no clue what the term “social networking site” meant. By now, most people know about YouTube and Facebook. YouTube is the leading repository of user uploaded video content. On YouTube, you can see everything from cell phone videos uploaded by individuals to “professional” videos and clips from record companies, studios and television networks as well as from established and aspiring artists.

Facebook was once just a glorified directory for college students. (There is pending litigation on the genesis of FB, which I’ll save for another day.) Now, everyone (including me) has “a Facebook.” You can upload pictures and keep people apprised of what you’re doing through “status” updates. People can converse in FB, through comments or wall “posts.” It has become by far the easiest way to reconnect and stay connected with family and friends.

The new kid on the block is Twitter — although Twitter isn’t really “new” since it’s been around for three years. But the use of and publicity about Twitter has exploded in recent months. Twitter allows you to send short, 140 character to the world. Twitter also now allows you to link to other webpages and post pictures (known in the Twittersphere as “twitpics”). My friend and Notre Dame classmate, Kelly Talcott, who goes by the Twitter handle kdtalcott, has written about Twitter basics here on his blog and here on Law.com. Those are good summaries of what Twitter is and can do.

It seems like everyone — yes, including me (@bruinmel) — is now on Twitter. (Kelly got me into Twitter when I was in New York last fall.) President Obama used Twitter to spread his message during his campaign. Shaquille O’Neal (@THE_REAL_SHAQ) made headlines when he began to use Twitter in order to stop a “fake” Shaq from impersonating him in the Twittersphere. Other NBA players followed suit. Milwaukee Bucks forward, Charlie Villanueva (@CV31), recently made headlines for “tweating” during halftime of one of his games. Countless other celebrities, athletes and politicians have “joined the conversation” on Twitter.

WITH THE FUN COMES RISK

There’s no denying that all of this is entertaining — and time consuming. The ease with which people can now publish information — including pictures and video — through Facebook, YouTube and now Twitter also means is private moments may be captured for the world to see. For example, two of the most popular celebrities on Twitter are Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk) and Demi Moore (@mrskutcher). Both are interesting to follow because their posts reveal the type of relationship with each other — in a positive way. Perhaps none were as revealing as Kutcher’s “twitpic” of Demi’s behind with the playful tweat “don’t tell the wifey.” The exchanges between the couple are entertaining and feed into our voyeuristic tendencies.

Social media can also be educational. Surgeons at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit conducted a live Twitter feed during a surgery — answering in real time questions posed by students and the public and showing the surgery itself on YouTube.

These are examples of the positive aspects of the new social media. What if the picture of Demi’s behind was taken by someone other than her husband? The patient at Henry Ford Hospital consented to the twittering and YouTube feed. But what if the subject of a picture didn’t consent (before or after the fact)? Someone with a cell phone camera can easily capture moments at restaurants and places and upload them immediately on to Facebook or Twitter. Some people might not find Twitter to be so entertaining. And it certainly can be time consuming. (Published reports claim that Jennifer Aniston broke off her relationship with John Mayer because of the time Mayer spent on Twitter.)

There’s also a big risk that the quick and instantaneous information being disseminated through FB and Twitter could be wrong. For example, Tweats concerning Nathasha Richardson’s tragic skiing accident prematurely reported that she had died. Richardson hung on for over a day before she actually succumbed to her injuries. So accuracy is also at risk when the rush to disseminate the information becomes more important.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Since these technologies are here to stay, we need to find the balance between the dissemination of entertainment/information and the risks to privacy and accuracy which these new social media present. Despite the risks, the emerging social media will be a positive influence on society — both to entertain and to educate. I have embraced these new media and can say without reservation that I have enjoyed it despite the risk to privacy and accuracy concerns I describe above. As King Benny said in one of my favorite scenes in the movie Sleepers, “life is a risk.” Have at it.