Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Internet Under Attack!

Comrades, it is worse than I ever imagined. You may recall my recent report that LinkedIn is under attack by lawyers. I have come to discover that it's not just LinkedIn... it's the entire Internet!

As a refresher, LinkedIn is a problem because recommendations from employers on that site may conflict with official performance reviews, creating a gold mine for plaintiffs' attorneys in future lawsuits. Guess what? It turns out you can post the same thing on Facebook! And while it would have to be an extremely brief (140 characters or less) review, you can even run into this problem on Twitter!

Employment lawyers aren't just raining on the Internet for employers, but for employees as well! There was the Savannah firefighter terminated after posting risque photos on her MySpace page (she lost her First Amendment and discrimination case). And if risque pictures are bad, imagine the trouble you can get into on YouTube!

And of course, employment lawyers are also trying to kill blogging. A recent 9th Circuit case held that the First Amendment doesn't protect a teacher from demotion where she calls her co-worker a "smug know-it-all creep" and "Mighty White Boy."

Is that the whole Internet that we've torn down yet? In case my sarcasm doesn't translate to the web, this whole post was written with tongue firmly planted in cheek. I don't see these as developments in "Internet Law"... it's just the same old law applied to the Internet. The Internet contributed to these situations because:
  • Anyone can publish
  • Anyone can read (barring some privacy settings on some sites)
  • There's a permanent record
If I wrote a letter to the editor in my local newspaper: "Dear editor, my boss is a big dummy and he smells like an orangutan. Love, Phil" I would dare say that I could be demoted (even if I worked for a public employer). But what paper would publish this (not to mention publishing risque photos of me!)!

And those LinkedIn recommendations? Inconsistent feedback is often a problem for employers (for legal as well as managerial reasons). It's particularly bad online though because it's right there for anyone to read; no legal discovery needed. Further, it doesn't get lost or forgotten because it stays there.

In short, they're the same problems amplified through the forum. Before everyone gets worked up over the new rules for web 2.0, worry about following the old rules.

Other areas of the law seem to translate so simply. Of course you can't threaten to kill Judge Posner on your blog. Of course you can't violate a court order on your blog. That's obvious. It should be equally obvious that employer/employee problems offline readily translate into problems online.