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From Tweet to IPO: Social Media Comes of Age

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The social networking site Twitter recently announced that it has submitted an application to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in a bid to take the company public. It is likely to be the largest tech initial public offering (IPO) since Facebook and demonstrates the meteoric rise of social media.

Nevertheless, with growing popularity, social networks are becoming harder to police and critics argue more needs to be done to prevent abuse and online bullying. It is an area of increasing concern for legislators keen to ensure that the applicable laws are fit for purpose.

The Law Playing Catch-up with Social Media

Twitter broke the news about its IPO through its own Twitter channel which has more than twenty-four million followers. In itself, the ability to make such an announcement in this way is a relatively recent legal update.

Since its inception in 2006, Twitter has grown exponentially with some analysts valuing the San Francisco based company at as much as £6.3bn. It has hundreds of millions of users and is adding thousands more each day.

However with increased use comes the problem of how to deal with policing the website effectively and the need for legislation to keep up to date with technological advancements.

Virtual Legislation

It has often been the case that individuals have been able to act with impunity in the virtual world and get away with sending abusive messages. Legislation has either been out-dated or non-existent.

A recent example of unchecked cyber-bullying was that directed at Caroline Criado-Perez who received threats of rape and other abusive messages online after she campaigned for a woman’s face to appear on UK bank notes.

While Twitter urges those who have received abuse to come forward and report it, the social media network is under pressure to make it easier for victims to report abuse and know that it will be dealt with. Twitter responded to calls for a “report abuse” button saying that it was looking to introduce this for twitter users across all platforms.

Twitter is not the only social network to come under scrutiny. Ask.fm, a Latvia-based website has come under increasing pressure to take action following the death of Hannah Smith in August who took her own life following online abuse.

Similarly, Facebook issued an apology after publishing a dating advertisement that used a picture of 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons. She too took her own life after pictures of her being allegedly sexually assaulted were distributed online and she began receiving abusive messages.

Legal Enforcement

There is a growing consensus that greater efforts must be made towards policing of social media sites and to prosecute abuse and criminality. Political scrutiny of issues such as cyber-bullying is likely to see significant legal changes as social media comes of age.

In the meantime individuals and businesses should still behave responsibly on the internet. Despite the current lack of effective regulation in relation to certain issues, individuals and businesses that perpetrate harm can still be subject to private civil actions by those that suffer it.

While social media can be beneficial for businesses, legal problems can arise if it is not properly managed. Potential causes of civil action exist regarding defamatory comments being made, copyright infringement and giving away confidential information for example.

Employers must implement effective policies regulating the use of the internet and social media both inside and outside the work place. Employers may be held accountable for the activities of their employees and it is up to them to try and limit the risks. If you need assistance to ensure your website policies and procedures are effective, Rollingsons has experienced lawyers who can assist you. For more information please contact us on 0207 611 4848.

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