Every day, we share our thoughts, creations, photographs and opinions freely via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media. But few of us have gone through the arduous task of reading the terms of service that govern how the social media platform uses our content, and fewer still know how other users might profit from our content.
The case of the "Pantsuit Nation" book deal is one individuals and companies alike can learn from.
In late October, a private Facebook group titled Pantsuit Nation sprung up as a means of rallying for and celebrating the accomplishments of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee for president of the United States, and later commiserating over her loss.
In order to gain access to the group, a current member had to add you to the secret club. By Election Day, Pantsuit Nation was thriving with a constant flow of honest, open and often raw posts being shared by Facebook users from all over the country.
On Dec. 19th, the Pantsuit Nation group founder, Libby Chamberlain, announced to the group that she had a book deal to take the stories posted in the private group and share them with the world. Ms. Chamberlain explained she would be seeking permission from those users who contributed exceptional posts and asked others to submit those posts they wanted considered for publication in the book.
Yet even so, many of the Pantsuit Nation citizens responded with sentiments of infuriation and betrayal aimed at the founder. The Huffington Post even published an article on Dec. 20th calling Pantsuit Nation a "sham" — and many Pantsuit Nation citizens agreed.
And so what does this teach us as avid social media users? Essentially that the content you post on social media is rarely private.
As a content creator, you must be mindful of how you are posting your content in order to understand the ways in which it may be used. Section 2 of Facebook's "Statement of Rights and Responsibilities" explains that users who publish content under a "public setting" are allowing everyone "to access and use that information." So what does that mean for Pantsuit Nation, a private group? Posts are intended only for the private group members, but there may be ways the members of the group may use the information you provided in your post outside of the confines of the private group.
Section 5 of Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities requires users who collect information from other users to "obtain their consent, make it clear you (and not Facebook) are the one collecting their information ... and how you will use it." Ms. Chamberlain appears to be following that guideline now, but it's unclear if she used the stories posted in the private group without permission in pitching the book prior to receiving the deal.
Indeed, accounts, pages and groups containing thousands of members are no longer communication tools reserved for major companies. Anyone can develop a large following online given the right circumstance. And with a growing user base comes a treasure trove of important data — posts, content and demographics — that page owners may use in order to help increase engagement or achieve end goals, whatever they may be.
For posters, this means relying on common sense and caution, understanding that your statements, whether protected or not, may be disseminated. For those creating groups — whether to rally individuals behind a shared cause or engaging customers with brand — building trust and acting in accord with contractual terms of the social media platform on which you have collected data are both key to your continued success.
Otherwise, you may risk becoming a reluctant member of Lawsuit Nation.
Gabriella E. Ziccarelli is an intellectual property attorney at Blank Rome LLP in Washington, D.C., with previous experience working in-house at tech companies in Silicon Valley; her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.