Employer Claims Ownership of Twitter Account in Lawsuit

employee screening, employee background checkIn today’s business world, many firms hire a social media manager , who is in charge of a company’s Facebook page, Twitter account, YouTube channel, and other social media marketing platforms. They’re tasked with promoting the company, gaining followers and engaging customers.

In other organizations, employees have a looser affiliation with the company’s official social media presence. They may have a personal Twitter account where they post both business and individual messages.

A new lawsuit is bringing the value of a social media account into question. Namely, can a company claim ownership of an employee’s social media account?

In this case, an employee for Phonedog.com, a mobile phone site, set up a Twitter account under the handle Phonedog_Noah that grew to 17,000 followers. He left the company, which at the time said he could keep his Twitter account if he tweeted on the company’s behalf from time to time. He agreed and changed his handle, but kept his followers.

Eight months later, PhoneDog Media sued him, saying the follower list was a customer list that the company owned. It sought damages of $2.50 per follower per month—a total of $340,000. The employee claims the suit is in retaliation for his own lawsuit against PhoneDog for unpaid wages and profits. He also disputes the worth of the Twitter followers.

This case puts the spotlight on an increasingly difficult problem for many employers. While tweeting and posting to Facebook or LinkedIn are often assumed to be an employee’s prerogative, which can improve (or at times, harm) the company’s reputation, while enabling employees to network and learn information that can improve their job performance.

The California District Court, which is hearing the case, may issue a ruling that puts the decision back in Twitter’s hands. After all, Twitter owns the entire site and everything that happens on it.

Companies that wish to avoid such interruptions and expenses should immediately craft clear social media policies, covering questions about ownership and portability.

When hiring new employees, be sure to conduct proper background screening. The best pre-employment screening process includes employee background checks, employee credit checks, and criminal background checks. You’ll know you’re hiring safe when you screen employees before offering a position.

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