Just last month, the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee in Florida issued an Opinion that Florida judges may not have social media "friends" if they are lawyers who may appear before them in court. While the average person may question what being a "friend" on any media platform really means in terms of the level or relationship outside the virtual world of web-based interaction – how many of you are "friends" with people you have never met and don’t even know? – the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee indicated that their main issue is not fact, but perception.
The Committee expressed concern that the "friend" identifier could create the impression or the appearance in a publicly available forum, that the lawyer might be in a position to influence the judge.
Influence the judge? Hmmm. So, let’s see. If I’m a government official or a corporate procurement officer, or perhaps I’m just campaigning for public office, I really can’t befriend anyone on any social media platform or network – unless I’m prepared to face potential charges of bribery, accepting bribes, improperly influencing a public official, or being improperly influenced in procurement and purchasing decisions. Can you think of other situations in which acknowledging another individual as a "friend" on a social media platform or social networking site might be considered a violation of some code of conduct? Have you read your employer’s code of conduct lately?
Not to worry, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Have you checked those "fan" pages recently? Are you a journalist? Celebrity endorser? Blogger? Check the revised FTC Endorsement Guides carefully. Perhaps you need to disclose your material connection when you became a fan! Oh, and you corporate employees and investment advisors (and journalists) better think twice before becoming a friend or a fan. After all, do you have to disclose to your clients or the Securities and Exchange Commission that you are a fan of "INSERT YOUR FAVORITE BRAND HERE"?
Now I don’t want to worry anyone needlessly, so here’s a tip for all of you Legal Bytes readers, whether you are a judge (are judges allowed to read Legal Bytes?), a lawyer or simply a normal person: If you wish to recuse yourself from a case, change the venue or forum for a trial, or simply avoid being picked for jury duty, I have a recommendation. Befriend the defendant, become a fan of the company, send a Facebook friend request to as many police officers (or, depending on your preference, inmates) as you can, and become a Twitter "follower" of as many products, services, public officials and political parties as you can.
Much to my regret, I have now been permanently removed from the White House guest list because I have become a fan of the Presidential Portuguese water dog "Bo" – the "First Dog." While it had never occurred to me that being thoroughly engaged by this adorable puppy would get me into trouble, the fact that the dog is "Portuguese" appears to have created the perception that there could be a conflict between my loyalties to our government and Portugal – although I confess to being partial to the food and the Algarve as an occasional vacation spot.
That said, I don’t feel alone any more since, even though the pup is officially registered with the American Kennel Club as "Amigo’s New Hope," I believe that the President and First Lady Obama, as well as their daughters Malia and Sasha, for whom Bo was an election day promise, are also under investigation for possible ethics violations in connection with their love for Bo. Strange, brave new world.
So keep your web browser tuned (or bookmarked) to www.LegalBytes.com for breaking news. The social media fun is just beginning, and if you haven’t checked your company policy lately (or revised it), or if you need help making sense of social media and the legal implications, you’ve come to the right place. Feel free to contact me—Joe Rosenbaum—or any of the lawyers at Rimon you work with. We are happy to help.