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Social Media & The Law: 5 Hot Topics in 2012

Happy new year, Social Media Club members.  Given the recent protest over the SOPA and PIPA acts via web blackouts of sites like Wikipedia, 2012 is looking to be another banner year of interesting issues at the intersection of the law and social media.  I thought it would be fitting to offer my predictions as to 5 topics to watch in 2012 in social media law.

Here are my predictions for areas at the intersection of the law and social media that will be hot in 2012, or in some cases continue to be hot.

1. Privacy

Privacy is going to continue to be a hot topic for social media sites, users, and regulators.  We’re only a month into 2012, and already the incorporation of social information into Google searches, as well as the change of all Facebook profiles to Timeline has already raised a flurry of privacy concerns among users and regulators.   Concerns like these are not going to go away any time soon for social media users, and it is important that social media professionals help clients understand as well as respond to these concerns on the part of users.  This is definitely an area to continue to watch as more social media cases reach the courts, and as regulators respond to consumer concerns about privacy.  

2. Kids and Teens Online

A related area that I think will continue to be an active one in the social media environment is the use of social media by kids and teens.  Last year there was quite a bit of coverage on Facebook’s lobbying efforts to try and get the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) repealed so that the social network could try out its own means of trying to keep kids safe online.  I doubt these efforts will relent in 2012, and it will be interesting to see how regulatory agencies like the FTC respond to them, as well as the concerns of parents.  

3. Intellectual Property

I think it almost goes without saying in light of the SOPA and PIPA protests that intellectual property issues online will be a hot topic in 2012.  It is clear from the protests that further efforts to pass legislation about enforcing intellectual property rights online will likely need to be drafted with input from content owners, as well as from the leading technology companies.  At this point it seems that pitting Hollywood versus Silicon Valley has not been effective.  Hopefully some points of compromise will be found in 2012, but at the rate we’re going, I think there will be more fireworks before that happens.

4. Social Media in the Workplace

Another area that will continue to generate headlines is that of the use of social media in the workplace.  More cases involving the use of social media in the workplace are making it to the National Labor Relations Board, as well as the courts, which means that there will likely be some interesting decisions in 2012.  Hopefully they will provide guidance to employers on how to draft employee handbook policies in regard to social media, and the rights of employees to use social media at work.  

5. IPOs

2012 is slated to be another year to watch the stock market, especially IPOs.  As some of the technology IPOs in 2011 were not as profitable as expected, everyone will be watching to see what happens when Facebook has its IPO, which is rumored to be this spring.  I think people will also be watching to see if being publicly held results in any changes to the company and its platform.  

These are just a few of the hot topics related to social media that I think will be in the headlines this year.  We’ll see how it all turns out.  I doubt it will be boring.  As always, this post is intended for informational and entertainment purposes, and is not intended to be legal advice or the substitute for the advice of a licensed attorney in your area.  

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