Two Great Social Media Law Cases Involving Facebook and LinkedIn

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Social media law is one of my online obsessions. I absolutely love the topic. I monitor the #SocialMediaLaw and #SMLaw Twitter hashtags regularly for new posts and emerging cases. I have seen webinars, videos, and read every single piece on the subject by the amazing Kerry Gorgone. For a period this year, I kept wondering if social media law could get any more interesting than 2012's hot case Phonedog v Kravitz. That was the gift that kept on giving. Literally.
Phonedog v Kravitz, which was eventually settled out of court, had me engaged from the very beginning. It brought up issues like "the financial value of a tweet" and "who owns an employer's social media account". But two cases – one involving Facebook, and the other involving LinkedIn – have generated lots of buzz of their own, and have produced nothing short of thought-provoking conversation this year.
The first case, Bland v Roberts, asks the question: "Can liking a Facebook page cost you your job?" Six employees were fired after they "Liked" the Facebook page of a candidate opposing their boss. They subsequently sued, claiming the firings violated their free speech. And recently, a federal appeals court agreed with them, saying that Facebook likes are protected by the First Amendment.
But this case, in my opinion, is far from settled. This involves the workplace, and when you combine it with the fact that Facebook is set to be muuuch bigger thanks to initiatives like, its easy to see how the U.S. Supreme Court will most certainly issue a ruling on this in the very near future. That's going to be exciting.
The second case, Whitmar Publications Ltd. v Gamage, asks the question: "When does a company 'own' LinkedIn information?" The backstory here is interesting. Four senior employees of a company named Whitmar set up a rival publishing company, and used Whitmar's Linkedin contacts to do it…before their employment ended. A high court in Great Britain ruled in favor of the company. As the Employment Radar wrote:

…the court found that the Linkedin information was apart of Whitmar's confidential information and that it should be protected from abuse by employees who were determined to gain an unlawful competitive advantage by exploiting it unfairly.

This was despite the fact that LinkedIn's terms of use state that "ownership" of an account is personal to the account holder. (emphasis mine) 

Fascinating, wouldn't you agree? As social media's presence grows, and grows, and grows, there will be more pressure on courts around the world to resolve these kinds of thorny cases. But it will also be necessary for companies, big and small, to develop a social media policy – something the Phonedog v Kravitz case inspired many to do. The Whitmar case necessitates it, and rings the alarm bell.
From both a legal and social media standpoint, this is still just the beginning. There will be more social networking platforms, more online businesses, meaning there will also be many more legal challenges in the coming years. Social media law is red hot, and getting hotter by the day.

Also see my post: Social Media Law in 2013: Even Bigger.



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