• Yik yuck. As we’ve discussed on this blog, secrecy is all the rage these days in the online world. Yik Yak – a particularly edgy social media app that seeks to preserve user anonymity – is sweeping the country, or at least the nation’s college campuses. With users’ identities concealed, the app has reportedly become a popular means for communicating deeply offensive remarks and even threats of violence. At one school, Colgate University, students launched a sit-in to protest against the ugliness they found on the app. And at the University of Tennessee, Dean of Students Melissa Shivers recently sent an email to students warning about the app and emphasizing the importance of civility on campus. With the growing popularity of anonymous social media platforms such as Yik Yak, expect to see increased tensions between anonymous speech rights and efforts to limit hateful or violent speech.
  • Listening in. For some time, many pharmaceutical companies have reportedly “listened in” on patients’ social media conversations to obtain a sense of how their products were actually being used, and data-packaging and data-mining companies have sprung up to help pharma firms get a handle on the discussions on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. Now, investors too are starting to jump into this emerging field of “social listening” to get ideas about where to put their money. An Israeli company, Treato, is actively courting fund managers with its pitch that it can tap into these aggregate conversations. Even though no actual patient names are apparently used in these reports, a lot of people are raising privacy concerns. Big Data, meet Big Privacy – should be an interesting battle to watch.
  • Legally social. The Pennsylvania Bar Association just issued a formal ethics opinion on the use of social media by attorneys. Among the key provisions are ones requiring lawyers to have a basic working knowledge of social media as part of their competence in the law, prohibiting lawyers from disclosing confidential client information in response to negative online reviews, and permitting attorneys to access the public portion of jurors’ social media profiles while prohibiting efforts to access private information from such profiles. The formal opinion is one of the most comprehensive on the subject in any state, and is recommended reading for attorneys, regardless of their practice focus.