Your employer might own your personal
social media account.
A federal court in Pennsylvania last week dismissed a lawsuit brought by a former employee who had sued because upon her departure the company changed her LinkedIn password and took over her personal account.
Tech website Ars Technica offers this description of the case
“Linda Eagle was the head of a company called Edcomm when it was acquired in 2010. But relations soured and Eagle was fired the following year. Eagle had shared her LinkedIn password with another Edcomm employee so that she could help Eagle manage the account. When Eagle was shown the door, her former assistant changed the password on her account, freezing Eagle out of it. Edcomm then replaced Eagle's name and picture with the name and photograph of her successor.”
Eagle brought a lawsuit against the company, asserting that it had violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. According to Ars Technica
“Eagle had argued the loss of her LinkedIn account damaged her reputation, since she was unable to respond in a timely fashion to messages sent to her on the site. She also claimed that as a result, she lost business opportunities including one valued at more than $100,000.”
Although the judge tossed out the lawsuit, it will continue in state court, reports ARS Technica
The particulars are unique, but how the case plays out could have far-reaching implications for anyone working in social media.
“If part of your employment involves running social media accounts for other people and companies, I suggest you put in writing who retains rightful ownership of said
accounts,” Samantha Collier, the chief content officer at Shift Digital Media, told PR Daily
. “Doing so will help prevent big headaches in the future.”
Collier is not a lawyer, but she maintains the popular blog Social Media for Law Firms
, which covers the intersection of social media and legal issues.
According to Collier, employees should be cautious when sharing their social media user IDs and passwords with employers.
“Although employment with a particular company may help individuals build their [social media presence], it’s my belief that individual social media accounts are owned by the employee,” she said, adding: “This isn’t the case when it comes to business Facebook pages or Twitter accounts that are in the name of the company.”
A lawsuit playing out in a California courtroom could challenge whether businesses own social media accounts in their name. PhoneDog, a website that reviews mobile devices and services, is suing Noah Kravitz
, who left the company and took with him control of its Twitter account. The company is asking for $340,000 and control of the feed. Kravitz claims the account belongs to him.
A solid social media policy would help companies such as Edcomm and PhoneDog, as well as their employees, to avoid such legal entanglements, Collier said.
She said such a policy “should lay out who owns what when it comes to all types of social media including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, company blogs, [and] social bookmarking sites such as Delicious [and] StumbleUpon, as well as image-based social media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest.”
She said the policy should be distributed and signed when an employee starts working for a company.
A recent study
noted that 24 percent of companies surveyed did not have social media policies.
[RELATED: Gap’s social media policy a guide for other companies]
Collier suggests that employees use their personal email addresses when signing up for a LinkedIn account.
“If they only use their work address and then lose access to that address, they’re out of luck when they get fired,” she said.