Social Networks Evolving Faster Than Laws Can Govern

November 19, 2009

10:15 pm

Social Networks by Beck Tench (via Flickr used with CC license)

Social Networks by Beck Tench (via Flickr used with CC license)

Editor’s Note: This article was contributed to TECH cocktail by John Guidos who practices law out of Chicago, Illinois at the Law Offices of Guidos & Pierotti LLP. Check out their website at: gplawchicago.com or follow John on Twitter: @johnguidos.

Legal battles over online postings are being waged across the nation at an increasing rate.  The idea of social networking is nothing new, but the exponential growth of sites such as  MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter have brought these cases to the forefront of today’s news. Facebook alone has over 300 million active users, and with more new users comes more conflict.

Train wreck/ex-grunge rocker Courtney Love has recently found herself being sued for libel (see the Complaint).  Ms. Love allegedly posted “derogatory and false comments” on Twitter about a fashion designer after the two disagreed over what Love should pay the designer for services rendered.  This case illustrates a new wave of cases filed by people who feel they have been injured by another via social networking.  These cases raise all types of legal issues (free speech, privacy, property, jurisdictional…etc).

One reason courts have a hard time governing social networking is no one can really anticipate new technological advances.  I would assume if lawyers could predict which social networking technology was going to be the next popular trend, the world would have a lot less lawyers (Twitter valued at $1 billion after it’s most recent round of funding and the average attorney makes approximately $57,000 per year).  It is hard to proactively institute laws to govern technologies that have yet to be developed.

Another problem courts face with social networking is that new legal precedent is often held up by jurisdictional issues.  The length of social networking cases are greatly extended by the court struggling with the issue of which court actually has authority to hear the case. Not only does the internet cross state borders, it also crosses international boundaries.  It is not hard to imagine the complications of litigating a case when a defendant is posting damaging content from a public computer in Italy about a Los Angeles based plaintiff.  Only after the jurisdiction is figured out can a court hear the merits of the case, which prolongs new case law from being decided by the court.

There are many different reasons to blame for courts struggling to keep up with social networking.  Internet technologies have progressed at a rate never before experienced in the history of the modern world. One thing the courts can predict however, is given the rate at which these sites have been evolving, when laws do catch-up with today’s technologies we will all have already moved on to the “next big thing.”

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John Guidos is a Chicago Attorney with a keen interest in startups and entrepreneurship. Follow him online at @JohnGuidos.

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