Editor’s note: The following is a guest blog post by attorney, friend (and former colleague from my law firm marketing days) Laura Steel Woods. She wrote this article in response to several well publicized social media identity theft cases.
Many years ago, before phones were used to update your Facebook status and check-in on Foursquare, they were used to call people. Sometimes, those calls included prank calls, which were intended to be a joke, for the most part. The thought that it might be “stealing” someone’s identity probably never crossed a prank caller’s mind. Now, with ready-made access to accounts on LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+, or creation of a Facebook fan page, the implications of what used to amount to prank calling have ramped up significantly.
Think about it—most phone calls are directed to one person/location, where you consciously select a contact from your electronic phone book or pull the number from your head and individually enter the digits. Deliberate. Calculated. Intentional. Controlled.
Social media is different. The reach is intended to be broad. Control is relinquished, while not always thoughtful at least knowingly, once you post your status update. As with so many other parts of our lives, social media has certainly changed the landscape, or at least raised the stakes, of identity theft. Consider the mass in which we communicate. The “victims” in the SM setting, just like a prank call, go beyond the person whose identity was compromised and can include those who relied upon the prank information. The breadth of victims in the SM setting is vastly different. Whose identity is stolen does, in part, determine whether there are legal consequences, just like IRL (example: impersonating a police officer versus impersonating me. One will get you jail time, the other will get you a lot of student loan debt.).
The legal system faces a huge challenge as it attempts to keep up with a medium that can’t even keep up with itself. How do you handcuff wireless communications, the internet, the Web or avatars? The remarkable resiliency of the justice system will probably find a solution, just like it has in all other advances along the timeline of history. Another interesting watch will be how much push-back the legal system receives given how protective the public is over the “right” to do anything and everything it wants with social media.
What I’m pretty confident won’t change is the need for us to be ever-conscious of our social media presence. It may seem like a small inconvenience or, at worst, momentary embarrassment if your identity is pranked on social media. The speed at which information travels, though, can cause the fallout to balloon beyond your world before you know it.
Laura Woods is Vice President of Legal Affairs for a local consulting company. In a previous life, she was a labor/employment partner with a regional law firm where she started the firm’s social media program with a Twitter account and a blog. You can find her on Twitter as @LauraSWoods.
Follow me on twitter @MarketingMel.