Cyber bullying verdict is yet another win for transparency

After the recent conviction of a woman in a cyber bullying case that took place on MySpace, many in the blogosphere and elsewhere are mulling how the case might affect their use of social networks.

In the news
After the recent conviction of a woman in a cyber bullying case that took place on MySpace, many in the blogosphere and elsewhere are mulling how the case might affect their use of social networks.
 
Lori Drew was convicted on misdemeanor charges after being accused of violating MySpace's terms of use by posing as a young boy. While this case rested on the actions of individuals, numerous companies are also active on social networking sites. Transparency in the online space has been heralded as a good business practice in the past. But this case is being called precedent-setting as it criminalizes behavior that violates online user agreements, like creating fake accounts.

Why does it matter?
Jon Bellinger, interactive strategist at Ketchum, says aside from the issue of cyber bullying, the legal precedent set by the case has the power to make the PR industry healthier in terms of transparency because things like writing anonymous positive comments about a client's brand could violate a social network's terms of use.
 
There could be negative implications, he adds, because one reason social networks, forums, and other forms of online communications are so useful in PR is that they allow anonymity among users.
 
“These are some of the most vibrant corners of the Web, and where a lot of the most popular Web trends come from,” says Bellinger. “So if membership in these areas starts dying off, PR agencies are going to see a lot less fodder out there for good program ideas.”
 
However, Matthew LeVeque, SVP at The Rogers Group, believes social networks and online communications will continue to grow.
 
“Most brands and organizations that are utilizing online communications and PR are using common sense and transparency, and are complying with all applicable laws and regulations,” he says.

Five facts:
1. The Pew Internet & American Life Project found 39% of teens who use social networks report being cyber bullied versus 22% who don't use social networks.
2. Pew research also found that 38% of girls ages 12 to 17 reported being cyber bullied, compared to 26% of boys in the same age bracket.
3. In addition, one in eight teens reported to Pew that they had been sent a threatening instant message, e-mail, or text.
4. Social networks around the world had 25% more unique visitors in June 2008 compared to a year earlier, according to ComScore.
5. Twitter is the fastest-growing social media Web site in the US, with 343% growth since September 2007, according to Nielsen statistics.

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