LinkedIn’s Terms and Conditions

linkedin-android-walks_0Social media terms and conditions is a subject area that is a little dry, so when asked to assess a network’s user agreement, I wasn’t sure which network to choose. In the hopes of being somewhat original, I focused my attention on LinkedIn. I can’t argue LinkedIn’s value, but much like terms and conditions, it’s not the most exciting social network. I was pleasantly surprised when I went to LinkedIn’s User Agreement page. I’m not saying that I’ll go to the page for pleasure reading, but after looking at Facebook and Twitter’s user agreements, I think LinkedIn may have the advantage.

Like Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn’s User Agreement is long and contains a lot of jargon. There’s really no way around it if they want to protect themselves. Unlike the other two networks, LinkedIn breaks down each section of the User Agreement into concise, easy to understand segments (below). Not only does this help ensure that users are reading the terms that they’re agreeing to, the organization and breakdown helps users to actually understand what they’re agreeing to, which is an ethical win for LinkedIn. No user can claim that they couldn’t make sense of the terms and conditions.

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Another great aspect of LinkedIn’s User Agreement is that there is a breakdown of what user responsibilities are, and then a section about what the company’s rights and obligations are to the users. On Facebook, the majority of responsibility is placed on the user. It’s nice that LinkedIn acknowledges that they have some accountability in the equation. This section also provides the network some security because if someone comes to the network with a complaint or problem, they can point to the User Agreement and show that they were up front about both the user’s and company’s obligations.

You hear about the implications of unethical behaviors on the “more social” social networks all the time. False representation or catfishing, has effected celebrities and professional athletes, and now there’s even a show dedicated to the unethical practice on MTV. As inconvenient as it may be to discover that someone else is using your photos or falsely representing you on Facebook or Twitter, can you imagine the negative implications of being falsely represented on LinkedIn? This is the network that is viewed as professional, so a fake profile could really ruin your career and your life.

While LinkedIn can’t force anyone to be an ethical person, the company’s User Agreement does take the necessary steps to protect users and the company itself. When LinkedIn users sign the User Agreement they agree that, “You promise to only provide us information and content that you have the right to give us and you promise that you LinkedIn profile will be truthful.” LinkedIn states that they have the right to suspend or terminate the profile of anyone who creates multiple or fake profiles. It seems as though LinkedIn has considered the major ethical implications, and they’ve done everything in their power to create a positive and secure user experience.

 

Social Media Terms and Conditions – The Small Print

I’m so connected to my computer and social media, when I login and see an updated user agreement or terms of services, I usually just scroll to the bottom of the page and click the “I accept” box. It doesn’t stop there, I recently signed a new lease and when handed a long document that the lady told me was “just your standard leasing agreement,” I signed the dotted line without reading all the terms and conditions. I could have signed my life away and I would have no clue!

This week’s lecture and readings reminded me a lot of the South Park iTunes agreement episode.

The problem with terms and conditions is that they’re just too long and usually contain jargon that’s hard to understand. It was a real struggle for me to make it all the way through the long list of terms and conditions, and there’s no way I would have read every word if it wasn’t for class! I consider myself to be a fairly intelligent person, but when reading through Facebook and Twitter’s user agreements, I have to admit that I was confused.

I don’t know that there is any quick and easy solution to making terms and conditions completely user-friendly because the social networks have to include the legal jargon so they don’t get sued. However, I think that there are steps that could be taken to ensure that social media users are actually reading the terms that they’re agreeing to.

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When reading through Facebook and Twitter’s terms and conditions, I liked that Twitter highlighted and summarized information in terms that everyone could understand (above). Organizing terms of service in this manner would help ensure that even if users didn’t read every single word, they would at least understand what they were agreeing to. I doubt that either network would legally be able to summarize all terms and conditions in this way, but I’m guessing it would increase what was actually read.

In Facebook’s terms and conditions this is a lot of emphasis put on “You,” as opposed to the company. As unfair as this may seem, you are the one who is using Facebook’s services, so you have to be responsible for how you use the network.

Some of the areas that I think need to be included in the terms and conditions of the social networks are user rights, privacy, how the site will share/use user content, account security, and provisions applied to advertisements/businesses. All of these areas have some crossover with ethical issues. To highlight an ethical concern that I’ve heard a lot about lately, I think it’s beneficial that both networks emphasize the fact that it’s against the rules to request that a user give you their password or account information. This will prevent the unethical practice of businesses requesting the information of potential employees.

Ethics usually aren’t black or white

Got ethics ?You can’t turn on the news without hearing about a company or an individual that has been impacted by social media. Just today, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about whether or not companies should monitor their employees’ social networking accounts. Because social media is still a new means of communication, there are still a lot of questions about what practices are and are not ethical. Even with careful consideration, a company or individual can still get into trouble because social media ethics are rarely black and white.

This week we learned the three steps to making an ethical decision:

  1. What are my motivations?
  2. What are the likely effects and to whom?
  3. Where does my duty lie strongest?

If you’re struggling with an ethical social media issue, these questions are great places to start. When I deal with ethical concerns, I like to focus on the second question. If I’m not sure if I should post something, whether it be on my personal or professional sites (If you’re even questioning it, you probably shouldn’t), I try to think of what the possible outcomes might be.  I wouldn’t post the same content on my business page, that I would post on my personal page. When I’m posting professionally, I’m representing my company, so my duty lies with the brand and its reputation.

That theory sounds simple enough, but as the lecture proved, practically applying the theory can get a little more complicated, especially in the field of journalism. As a journalist, I have sought out information about someone I was writing about on social networking sites. I’ve used pictures from Facebook, researched who their friends were, pulled quotes from statuses, and used social networks to connect with potential sources. Some may consider it unethical, but it’s a method of survival in the reporting industry.

I’ve always considered using social sites as a tool as ethical, because the person is putting the information out there, so as a reporter, why wouldn’t you use that information? You have a duty to your company and to your profession to tell the whole story, and social media sites can help you do that.

In the case of adding the friend of a murder victim on Facebook without identifying yourself as a reporter, I would consider that ethical. Once you send the friend request, the person has the ability to see who you are, and they can make the decision of whether or not they want to add you. The ball is in their court. While I don’t think there’s anything unethical about it, I don’t know that it’s the kindest of things to do. The person has just gone through a major tragedy, so as a human being, you should respect that and not overstep your boundaries.