Social media usage rates have increased at an incredible speed over the past decade. In 2006, a Pew survey revealed that only 5 percent of adults used the major social networking sites such as Facebook or LinkedIn.
When they repeated the survey just six years later in 2011, that number had risen sharply to 50 percent of all American adults. The numbers are even higher among certain demographics. Eighty three percent of those between 18 and 29 are on social media and are also far more likely to use it every day.
As an increasing percentage of the professional world is using social media on a regular basis, it makes sense that privacy issues related to the popular sites is also becoming an important part of the national conversation.
Over the past several years, there have been several cases that have made the news regarding the intersection between social media and the professional world and what amount of control employers have over the accounts of their employees.
There have also been many conversations about the amount of information that is safe to reveal on these social networking sites and how to protect personal privacy while still using them effectively. Recent internet privacy laws have sought to address many of the issues brought to the forefront by these debates.
Local Privacy Laws Regarding Social Media
Many of the internet privacy laws that are dealing with social media are being issued on the state level. For example, Maryland, Illinois, California, Michigan, and Utah have laws on the books the ban employers from asking employees or potential employees for their social media account usernames and passwords.
Many of these laws, however, do not prevent employers from investigating their employees based on perceived misconduct on the internet. They can also usually create regulations based on expected behavior of the employees on the internet, including personal accounts. Similar protect laws are also being considered in Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Arizona, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Minnesota, Arkansas, Louisiana, Ohio, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode island, and Vermont.
Privacy Laws and Investing
Wall Street, in particular, has been heavily involved in the debate on social media usage as it relates to the public professional world. The SEC has been very concerned about how employees might be able to share information related to trading and how it might affect markets. They cite the speed at which information shared on social networking sites, such as Twitter, can spread.
They recently developed new guidelines that allow companies to require foreknowledge about what employees intend to communicate on social media.
The traders on the west coast had once dealt with similar issues, as the Securities and Financial Markets Association made an attempt to get the California protection laws vetoed. They believed that the protections would not allow companies to monitor the financial information and advice that their employees could potentially reveal. The debate is continuing throughout other states, with the SEC saying that they are keeping a close eye on the situation.
Federal Movements Towards Privacy Laws
The existing laws in several states combined with the current national debate on the role of social media in the professional world have also caught the attention of federal lawmakers. A law has recently been introduced to Congress that would take the protections awarded in several states nationally. If the law were to pass, employers would not be able to ask employees for their social media login information and they would not be able to penalize employees or potential employees for refusing to provide it.
While the laws forbidding inquiring about usernames and passwords do offer a degree of protection for employees, it is important to remember that these laws do nothing to prevent employers from reading public information such as incriminating photographs, tweets, and posts.
Few laws on the state level prevent employers from investigating employees’ behavior on the internet, and social media information can also be pulled in discovery as a part of lawsuits between employers and former employees. Since the information is in the public sphere, it is unlikely that legislation would be able to fully prevent employers from reviewing it. Employees should remember how easily the information can be accessed and monitored.
The rapid increase in social media use, especially among the younger generations of professionals, has caused the worlds of social media and professional businesses and corporations to collide as never before. As the internet and technology continue to develop faster than the law, lawmakers and internet users are still working on determining the appropriate balance of privacy versus the public sphere.
The regulations regarding personal account logins are certainly a step in the direction of protecting individuals, but there is still a great deal of grey area that remains to be discussed and determined.
This article is brought to you by Michal S. Rothman of http://www.mikerothman.com who works on criminal cases surrounding internet privacy issues.