Defining social media: grading States' legislative efforts so far

Suppose you were a state legislator and you wanted to do something to stop employers from demanding that employees turn over their Facebook passwords.

Or maybe you *are* a state legislator and are considering introducing a bill to do just such a thing.

LegislatorYou know the governor won't sign a bill that applies only to Facebook accounts. Besides, some employers are asking employees for Twitter passwords. And who knows what the popular social media or social networking services of tomorrow will be?

So you need to come up with a definition for "social media" or "social networking." You need to include such a definition in your bill, so the executive and the courts know what kinds of activities you are trying to place beyond the legitimate reach of the employment relationship.

An enterprising staffer brings you two definitions she has found in laws passed recently in other states. Here they are:

“'Social networking site' means an internet-based, personalized, privacy-protected website or application whether free or commercial that allows users to construct a private or semi-private profile site within a bounded system, create a list of other system users who are granted reciprocal access to the individual’s profile site, send and receive email, and share personal content, communications, and contacts."

"As used in this chapter, 'social media' means an electronic service or account, or electronic content, including, but not limited to, videos, still photographs, blogs, video blogs, podcasts, instant and text messages, email, online services or accounts, or Internet Web site profiles or locations."

Which of the two definitions do you prefer? Would your opinion be influenced if you knew which came from California and which from Delaware?


Sometime next week on this blog we'll compare, contrast and assign grades to the definitions used in six different state laws that address the problem – or something very near like it – described above.

The "we" are a handful of internet/privacy lawyers who are following this protocol. (If you practice in this area and want to participate, jump in, there is still time! Grades are due Monday.)

Photo: "Representative Elaine Gordon votes NO" (1984) / Flickr.

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