Ryan Garcia, Dell’s in-house attorney for social media, explains how understanding social media makes you a better adviser; why a business needs a social media policy for employees; and how to advise clients on the risks of social media. His opinions are his own. The prior installment can be found in the Dec. 10 edition of The Daily Record.
This interview has been edited by the author for clarity, readability and print length. This is part 1 of 4. Future portions will be published on Jan. 7 and 14, 2014.
You are going to be teaching a class on social media law. Why teach social media law as its own class as opposed to making it part of other disciplines?
It is actually going to be the second time that I’m teaching it. When I first proposed the class to the school, the biggest area that was being covered [by existing materials] was marketing. To me, social media is so much bigger than that and it has so many interesting areas. When I pitched the class it was specifically to cover all of these topics.
So every single week is a different module [such as] general marketing; promotions, like contests and sweepstakes; employment; privacy; rights of publicity; copyright; free speech. It’s just really interesting to see social media impacting all of these different areas of law.
Were you ever tempted to look at the students’ Twitter feeds to see the reviews of the class?
Here is the really funny part. All of the course readings I tweeted. I said “Look, I’m gonna tweet out, every Friday, what the articles or cases I want you to read for the next week.” I was shocked to discover that about a third of the class knew how to use Twitter. I was going in thinking they’re all going to be on Twitter.
The very next week I went over a list of what I considered the big players on the social media platforms and asked which ones people knew about. Twitter was right around 30 percent. The only ones that the entire class knew were Facebook and Instagram. That was it. Every other platform had significantly under a hundred percent of people using.
For law students not lucky enough to take your class and for lawyers who haven’t heard you speak, what are the couple key things that they should remember about social media?
I think the most important thing is that they’ve got to go and use it. If they are to have any kind of relevant conversation with their clients, with the teams that they support, with their customers, whatever kind of organization there is, they need to know what it does and what the potential is.
I know that it that can be really uncomfortable for some people who don’t use a lot of the newer technology. [But], you do need to learn how it works and what it is capable of doing because that’s going to frame so many of the legal issues that you will face. If you don’t know it, you’re just walking in blind.
The second thing that, to me, is the most important, is to not pretend like social media is going away or you can ignore it. If you don’t have a social media policy, or if you haven’t addressed this with your employees or organization, that doesn’t mean the problem doesn’t exist, it just means that you haven’t addressed it. If you don’t teach them [your employees] the right way, then all you’re doing is forcing them to continue doing it the wrong way.
Do you think that social media’s impact on the youngest users is even deeper than their usage history or view of privacy? Do you think it is changing how they organize themselves or even how they think?
Twenty or 30 years ago kids that were going through middle school, high school, those very awkward ages, if they found something that they were very interested in then maybe they had one or two other people in their entire school that also had the same interests. Now they’re able to connect to thousands or millions of them instantly.
We’ve seen a lot of really positive things, and a few negative things, as a result of that. The power of social media is having those conversations, allowing people to make connections. As we focus on the negative of the Internet in terms of cyberbullying, what we don’t see as often is the positive, which are people or kids that would have been previously isolated that now do have a sense of community.
Without social media, they would not have had that. That is something I do see continuing and people seeing the power of having conversations and building community out of previously solitary activities. That’s going to be a huge shift moving forward. Now the norm is “I like this, let me go find the other people that do as well.”
More on Mr. Garcia
Garcia is a legal director at Dell. His areas of responsibility are social media, retail and gaming. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, teaching a class on Law & Social Media. You can follow him on Twitter at @SoMeDellLawyer and his blog SoMe Law Thoughts can be found at: http://somelaw.wordpress.com.[Part 3 of the interview, Social Media and Employees and Students: Password Protection Statutes, will appear on Jan. 7]
Scott Malouf is an attorney who helps other attorneys use social media, text and Web-based evidence. You can learn more about him at his website (www.scottmalouf.com) and follow him on Twitter at @ScottMalouf. Although he is a good cook, he has been accused of “over herbing.”