Role play explains the pitfalls of social media
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Role play explains the pitfalls of social media

"And, action!" declared Lisa Iverson of Neal & McDevitt, as she kicked off an INTA session on social media yesterday morning. Structured as a role play involving a fictional social media site - Grab-U - and two outside counsel, the session took attendees through problems such sites have with defamatory posts, IP infringement and inappropriate content.

"Someone's posted a message saying 'Grab-U stinks. Your site is a blanket-blank rip-off and encourages scams. You should be sued'," said Timothy J. Lockhart of Wilcox & Savage, playing the role of Grab-U's in-house counsel."It's bad enough that it's happened, but even worse it was posted by my mom!"

"Well, I can't do anything about your issues with your mom," said Jeremy Roe of Anheuser-Busch, playing one of the outside counsel. "But I would suggest that you deal with this issue sensitively. Taking down content that defames third parties is one thing, but removing posts about your company could start a flame war."

Roe went on to explain that a flame war is caused when companies take a heavy-handed approach with Internet users, which leads to a reaction across social media and a lot of bad publicity. One Canadian beer company, which went unnamed, experienced just such a reaction when it tried to stop images being used of a suspected murderer holding one of its beer bottles. It prompted a storm of comment online, including creative ways of associating the brand more closely with the man in question.

"Wasn't there an Australian sandwich maker that used humor to good effect in such as case?" asked Lockhart. "Yes, they were reacting to an accusation that their foot-long sandwiches were not a foot long, and the funny way they dealt with it actually led to a lot of positive coverage," said Roe.

The discussion was full of jokes and jibes between the three attorneys, with frequent references to the superiority of Budweiser beer and the outside counsel - Roe and Janice Housey of Symbus Law Group - professing to have never heard of the term "non-billable."

The last problem to be discussed was typical: a user of Grab-U had posted pictures of a colleague at an INTA Annual Meeting being "over served." The slide included a picture of a cartoon character drinking a big glass of beer. "Have you ever heard of this organization, INTA?" asked Lockhart. "Yes, although from what I understand it is a reputable organization. This incident must have been an exception," said Roe.

For all the humor ("the DMCA - isn't that a rap group?"), there were serious and practical points for brand owners throughout the session. Housey explained certain provisions of a suggested terms-of-use policy that was available for attendees, and advised that these should include points on everything from trademarks to defamatory content, illegal actions to rights of privacy.

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