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May 23 2013

Trend Watch: Social Media Gains Momentum as Legitimate Source

Social media: it allows people to connect and communicate online, on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Linked In among others. Where does it belong in the legal world?

Today, many people live their lives on social media. It easily provides a snapshot of their life. It tells their story, and for many, it’s a part of who they are. It’s very public and yet very personal. So, as social media permeates much of our lives, our news, and our way of life, why should we continue to eliminate this powerful source of communication as a viable means to communicate legal information, to be involved in the legal process, and be part of the legal industry?  Read on to find out about some recent examples of how social media is beginning to invade the legal industry.

After the terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon in April, the Boston PD jumped on to Twitter, informing the public, and in a sense, controlling the conversation. Without joining the conversation, they couldn’t have any iota of input- it was going to happen with or without them. They chose to be involved. Twitter isn’t just for kids anymore. It turned out to be an excellent form of communication and it allowed for real-time updates about the situation as it unfolded. It was definitely appropriate, worthwhile, and it served as an excellent example of how social media can be positive, even during a terrible time, and even for a police department.

Recently, the Chicago Tribune reported that Illinois introduced legislation that would offer stiffer penalties for individuals convicted of using social media to organize flash mob attacks. Social media is in the law books. While the safety of this law is what’s at heart, the public has questioned whether or not this is allowing the government to be too intrusive, as it also allows law enforcement to have access  to location data from Internet Service Providers without a subpoena or a warrant. With social media, privacy is an incredibly fine line that gets blurred, especially from the government. What is personal, what is public? Does this law go too far?

Social media is something that is happening all around us; a phenomenon that is now a part of our culture. But where do we draw the line? As a member of the process serving industry, (and as an individual in marketing) I can honestly say that though I am a big fan of social media, it just can’t replace personal process service. Recall that we identified just reasons why service via social media might not be the best option for superior service by highlighting the challenges that could arise from civil process service via social media. Check out the link in case you missed it.

Again- it’s about choosing where social media is appropriate. The only problem with that is the public can’t seem to unanimously agree. To many in the civil process service field, social media could never replace civil process service the way that we know it. Though clearly, some attorneys are a fan as they are working to introduce it into legislation, and already have in states such as Texas and  Utah. However, that is not to say social media can’t be of any assistance in our industry; many firms that also do skip tracing will use social media to try and locate individuals. Process servers use social media to exchange ideas, to get updates on the industry as legislation is always changing. So, though we don’t want it to take over what we do, it’s intrusion into our industry isn’t wholly unwelcome.

Social media can also serve as a legitimate medium for legal notices in other arenas; for example, legal notices that would otherwise be published in newspapers could potentially be found on Facebook. An example of this appeared on April 2, 2013, the SEC announced that social media is OK for company announcements, so long as investors are alerted. Forbes highlighted in the May 15th article, “The Impact of the SEC’s Social Media Pronouncement” that the impact of this announcement is remarkable, though some companies, such as GE, “would continue to rely on news releases to communicate material information.” And though they may rely on news releases, it doesn’t mean that they won’t include social media as a viable platform to disseminate information. This is a situation where social media can no longer be excluded, yet it definitely can’t replace the current media.

No matter which way you turn, social media is in the process serving industry, in the legal industry, and in the general public. More and more instances are going to come up where social media’s legitimacy is questioned- whether or not it should be legislated, utilized, or even considered a valid source. It’s definitely a trend that commands attention as it is gaining serious momentum.

These were just a few examples; where else have you encountered social media in the legal world and how do you feel about it? Join us on Twitter @fireflylegal to discuss.

process servers and social media