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Common sense and clear policies key to social media use, claim experts

23 Nov 2012
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According to social media experts speaking to V3, social media sites like Twitter and Facebook need no further legal regulation in the UK.

Their comments follow a V3 survey of 260 readers, which found that 41 percent of businesses are anxious about the legal ramifications of using social media.

Businesses appeared to be split over the question of whether social sites need more regulation, with 39 percent feeling more was needed, and 38 percent against.

The legal uncertainties around social media has been highlighted by the numerous recent cases of Twitter users getting into hot water for remarks they make on the social network.

However, there is disagreement in the legal sphere whether these cases arose because of a lack of clarity around the application of existing laws when it comes to social media, or if new laws are needed.

Dirk Singer, chief executive of the Rabbit Agency, a brand management firm, argued the laws are already in place.

"They're in place and you can see them being applied, like when Tom Daley was trolled during the Olympics, and now with the Lord McAlpine case," said Singer, when speaking during a V3 panel discussion on the legacy of the first social media Olympics.

"[The debate] reminds me of 15 years ago, when businesses first started using email and people were worried about them passing on confidential information. Now it's commonly aware that you have to use a certain amount of restriction when you use your email. I'm sure it will soon be the same for social media too."

Amr Elrawi, digital marketing programme manager for Cisco, agreed the laws are clear enough. "It's about education and awareness. And you need to be accountable for what you say. It's not something new. It's common sense," said Elrawi.

"The base of these issues happening in social media is not so different as to what's happening in the press. People are learning there's a fine line between freedom of speech and crossing the line."

Elrawi said employers also have a duty to provide staff with social media training. He said Cisco, as a sponsor of the Olympic Games, was very aware of its social media activity.

"Before the Games, we did training about social media dos and don'ts. In the games myself and the digital teams were working with the PR teams. It's as much about policy and legal laws, as it's about how organisation organise themselves internally."

Meanwhile, Silka Kennedy-Todd, head of the Transport for London (TfL) press desk for the Olympics, said the organisation is careful about what it puts on Twitter and has a social media policy in place to guide employees.

However, she said it often comes down to common sense, and the contract that employees sign when they join TfL often applies to what they say on Twitter.

"We have nearly 20 Twitter channels that are used for operational purposes and these are managed by people who are already providing information through other channels. In the press Twitter channel, we make sure that whatever goes out is cleared by a manager first."

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Rosalie Marshall

Rosalie Marshall is the special projects editor and chief reporter at V3. Previously she was a reporter for IT Week and channel editor for online television site Rosalie covers government IT, business applications, IT skills, open source technology and social networks.

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