Smartphones And Social Media

With the touch of a screen, that same recorded content can be instantly uploaded from a smartphone to the internet to be viewed by an audience of hundreds, thousands, or even millions. Any sensitive situation has the potential of becoming the next internet video to “go viral.” Also, news outlets are increasingly using amateur photographs and videos to assist with their coverage. Bystanders are becoming field reporters, and accidents are popular subjects of the news media. If a videotaped accident is caused by a hazardous condition or an operator error, it can create significant reputation problems as well as liability exposure. Video depicting an inappropriate response to an incident can be as compelling as the incident itself.

Parks and recreation industry risk managers should always be alert to the possibility that someone might be recording and that any misconduct could be used against them. Parks should be vigilant about maintaining their premises to avoid injuries, liability, and negative publicity. Public relations and customer-service training should be provided to every employee and volunteer at your park. All adverse situations should be handled swiftly and professionally to avoid unnecessary damage to your reputation.

Marketing through social media also has attendant risks. Anyone who has a bad experience at your park has the potential to make disparaging statements. Since most social-network sites allow third parties to post communications, your own site can become a source of negative publicity. To reduce this risk, many businesses actively monitor and respond to negative comments to address the concern, typically without acknowledging wrongdoing.

Privacy And Security Issues

Along with the benefit of “staying connected” comes the associated concern of protecting information. Since social networks are relatively new, privacy laws in this area are still developing. Some courts have found the expectation of privacy is limited, if it exists at all, for information posted on social networks. Photographs and information posted on the public portion of a social-network website potentially can be used as evidence, and often plaintiffs’ web pages provide valuable information about their activities, friendships, and physical abilities. There are ethical prohibitions against “friending” claimants under false pretenses in order to gain access to private information. Nevertheless, on occasion, courts have ordered plaintiffs to produce social-network information protected by privacy settings.

Access to such information can be a double-edged sword. Plaintiffs’ attorneys frequently search defendants’ websites and social-media sites to try to identify information that will be helpful to their case. Therefore, no sensitive information should be posted to a public website or social network. Posting confidential or privileged information can destroy the protection. Employee policies and procedures should address these issues and should be enforced.

Monitor Future Developments

As people become more reliant on smartphones and social media for both business and recreation, new issues will emerge. Risk managers should respond appropriately to any direct risks involving the use of smartphones. They also must stay abreast of technological advancements, security concerns, and privacy laws in these areas. While there are risks inherent in the spread of this new technology, an informed park owner or risk manager can make it work for them.

Thomas F. Brown is an attorney with the Orlando office of the civil-defense litigation firm, Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin. A member of the Casualty Department, he devotes a portion of his practice to the representation of theme parks, golf courses, waterparks, recreational facilities, attraction operators, and retail stores. He may be reached at (407) 420-4392 or tfbrown@mdwcg.com.

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