Not long ago I wrote a long, detailed piece on the potential pitfalls involved in blogging. What is not mentioned in that article in any detail is mico-blogging.
Micro-blogging is defined by Wikipedia as a form of blogging “that allows users to send brief text updates or micromedia . . . to be viewed by anyone or by a restricted group. . . .” Think Twitter or Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn or Xing: Micro-blogging typically consists of short pieces, almost like “sound bites” or “blog bites,” if you will. They provide short, immediate commentary, and often related to such important, breaking news as “What I’m doing now is . . . .”
Because one often uses micro-blogging only with respect to one’s close friends (or expanded circle of friends), one’s micro-blogged persona may differ from one’s professional persona. Ask yourself this: would I “friend” my boss on Facebook and let him or her see everything that’s going on in my personal life? If the answer is “no,” you’ll understand why a number of companies no insist that job applicants “friend” them so they can check out the what isn’t on the resume.
Is this legally acceptable? Seems that it. I put the question to one of my colleagues who practices in the firm’s Labor & Employment Group, and her response was that it would seem to pass legal muster. (I’m omitting a slew of caveats, but that was the general idea.)
What’s more, a colleague in our Atlanta office chimed in with an anecdote about having found the “smoking gun,” which allowed his team to prevail on a lawsuit, on the plaintiff’s Facebook page. Hey, an admission is an admission no matter where you find it. But with the advent of the Internet, and the proliferation of micro-blogging sites, there are more opportunities to make potentially case-killing statements, and a greater chance that, once made, they won’t simply disappear into the ether.
Add into this mix, the Federal (and California, etc.) rules on electronic discovery, and you can see a storm brewing. In a nutshell, the Federal Rules explicitly incorporate e-discovery as subject to disclosure requirements. While certain “safe harbors” exist, for example where the e-information sought is automatically deleted as part of good-faith, routine system operations (and not as part of a plan to destroy evidence), the fact is that most of what we create in cyberspace (micro-blogs included) would be subject to such discovery, and we – and our clients – would have a duty to preserve such data, search for it and (gulp!) disclose it (provided it is relevant, not privileged and “reasonably accessible” of course).
So, what happens when Web 2.0 (social networking, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) meet e-discovery? The answer may depend on how – and if – such data can be archived. In other words, is it there when the opposing counsel asks for it? Certainly one could ask for a print out of everything available as of the date of the request. Moreover, if the data resides on the Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn server, it may be obtainable by subpoena, and if it has been stored on the responding party’s internal computer RAM, there seems to be no question that it is subject to discovery.
While this area of law is sure to evolve in the coming months, it is something to remember when seeking discovery, or representing a company in their hiring issues. After all, you don’t a blog bite to come back and bite you in the . . . .