The privacy challenges of social media

By Rosie Johnson and Paul Kallenbach

Higher-education institutions — like most other large organisations — are increasingly aware of the many and varied legal risks arising from the use of social media in their day-to-day activities. Whether it be liability for misleading or deceptive conduct, intellectual property infringement, defamation, breach of harassment or obscenity laws or the prospect of suffering significant reputational harm, organisations are devoting increasing attention and resources to social media risk mitigation strategies. These include implementing and enforcing specific social-media-related policies and procedures; ensuring appropriate contractual terms and conditions with their users; and regularly monitoring their social media channels for inappropriate content.

The privacy issues arising from social media are similarly challenging — and heightened by the paradox of having to effectively safeguard the personal information of academics, staff, students and stakeholders in the instantaneous, borderless, ubiquitous, networked and open environment that is social media. For higher-education institutions, three privacy challenges in particular can be identified.

The first arises from institutions’ own use and disclosure of social media. An institution’s Facebook pages, LinkedIn groups, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram accounts, and home-grown social media channels, can each provide a wealth of valuable information and intelligence about the activities of academics, staff, students and prospective students…

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