Catch the Tiger by the Tail: Counseling the Burgeoning Government Use of Internet Media

The phenomenon of Internet media has grown exponentially over the past decade, and local governments are beginning to take advantage of the benefits of social networking. Internet media, as the term is used in this article, consists of Web sites operated by governmental entities or elected officials. This definition includes public Web sites, social networking Web sites initiated by agencies of a public body or the public body itself, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube; and Weblogs (more commonly known as blogs) maintained by the public body or any of its agencies. Through Internet media, local governments and their agencies are able to advertise, market, provide notice to constituents, and provide information to residents and nonresidents worldwide. Elected officials are also employing these new media as a way to interact more directly with the public and promote their individual political positions. Overall, both elected and governmental officials are outpacing legislative ability to create standards and protections for use of these new forms of communication, making it easy for users of this technology to inadvertently create liability for themselves and their agencies. The power of this technology assures that liability and compliance concerns will need to be addressed by government attorneys now and in the foreseeable future. As such, this is the time to begin understanding the unique legal issues relating to social networking through Internet media. Liability Protection

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