March 27, 2011
After Facebook hit 500 million users, few could deny the explosive growth of social media. LinkedIn, Twitter and the like have changed the traditional channels of snail mail advertisements, increased the efficiency of research and continue to evolve with sticky features such a social networking and online collaboration that keep users from venturing off to other sites. Whether its business or personal, this growth has yielded great advances that could have several positive effects on the eDiscovery industry. However, we are also seeing looming challenges for corporations presented by social media.
A Positive Spin
According to a Neilsen Report titled “What Americans Do Online: Social Media and Games Dominate Activity” released last August, it was stated that two-thirds of the internet population utilize social media sites. I don’t even want to say how much time I spent on Facebook when it first came out, but the report also estimates that users spend more than 10% of their online time on social media sites, and this percentage is constantly increasing.
The great thing is the birth of social media and its evolution provides a great template for social collaboration software accessible though just about any browser. Users are also becoming increasingly familiar with the various features and widgets. The union of these points allows users to share, process and review electronic information from a range of locations creating a virtual workspace. This method of delivery has given rise to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies designing increasingly useful product offerings that no longer require buying servers and hiring IT personal to manage it.
On the Down-side
On the other hand, compliance for social media and related policies and regulations have not developed at the same pace. According to Gartner, by the end of 2013, half of all companies will have been asked to produce material from social media websites for eDiscovery needs, so enterprises need an overall governance strategy for all applications and information used on social media platforms. On top of that, actual ownership of the content is not the companies, but rather third parties. According to Federal Rules on Civil Procedures (FCRP) enacted in December 2006, the company has the responsibility to preserve potentially relevant electronic information when litigation is “reasonably anticipated.” The challenge is how to effectively request this information from third parties.
Companies and regulators are quickly re-thinking controls for use of these sites while surfing the web inside the corporate firewall. British Petroleum began an immediate social media campaign after their deepwater horizon blowout only to find out this would later become evidence, thus adding several million to their eDiscovery costs.
In short social media, while helpful for the evolution of technology engines, for eDiscovery it continues to add another layer to compliance costs and additional headaches for many large and small companies. The added twist is requesting content from third parties can often be difficult, so regulators need to quickly move towards more transparent solutions and procedures to request and obtain content efficiently.