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March 20, 2008

Associations face a social media and anti-trust Catch 22

Mike hits the nail on the head in a post this morning about the Craigslist ruling. Associations face a social media and anti-trust Catch 22. Mike outlines the dilemma perfectly...

If an association creates a website where members can "talk shop" with one another, there's a possibility that the conversation could veer into the antitrust zone -- just as it could if the members were in the same room at a meeting sponsored by the association. But at a meeting, an association could (or should) have an attorney who will stand up and read the antitrust policy statement and also jump in and stop lines of discussion that raise antitrust problems. On the website, who's the antitrust "traffic cop" to protect the members (and the association)?
And to make things worse, the association may actually be considered more cuplable by moderating discussions.

Clearly this is a Catch 22. On one side, some will argue that associations should be on guard by actively moderating conversations in their social media outlets, quickly shutting down conversations that have even the appearance of anti-trust or other illegal content. This would be the standard CAE exam response. Others will suggest that the more active role an organization takes in moderating user generated content, the more likely it will be considered a publisher (as opposed to a portal or conduit) of information, thereby raising its risk.

ASAE & The Center should really request some clarification on this from the DOJ and FTC.

Tagged: ; ; ;


Maddie Grant said...

Can't associations just post clear rules that you have to read before joining the network? Like when you subscribe to a listserve, or download something? I feel like people get their knickers in a twist over something that should not be a big deal as long as the rules are clear.

Matt Baehr said...

"ASAE & The Center should really request some clarification on this from the DOJ and FTC."

Amen. I agree with Maddie, but ED's are scared and would need to see something solid before they pull the trigger.

Frank said...

Disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer, and don't play one on TV.
We all DO and SHOULD worry about the legal side. It would be stupid not to.
For our community tools, our lawyers have been satisfied with a basic "terms of use," which is a simple set of behavior rules. We have a long one that the lawyers like (buried under a link), and a short one for the rest of us, which is visble on every entry page of the tool.
It's very basic: be respectful, don't slander or libel, don't do or promote anything illegal, and that includes those gnarly anti-trust issues. We have also a rule prohibiting commercial content.
That's it. If we learn of someone violating it (it's happened once in 12 months) we delete it. Second offense, we kick them off. We don't monitor content ahead of time, but we do respond quickly when we see or hear about anything. That takes us out of the publisher mode, we think. And it keeps everything honorable.
So far, so good.