From Jon Rettinger, President of TechnoBuffalo LLC
As many of you are aware, TechnoBuffalo’s Editor-at-Large Noah Kravitz is currently engaged in a legal dispute with his former employer PhoneDog Media (PhoneDog) regarding ownership of his Twitter account. PhoneDog is suing Noah based on their valuation of his Twitter followers at the time he stopped working for them: $2.50 per month per follower for eight months, totaling $340,000.
I have remained silent on the issue, privately supporting Noah, hoping that this issue would be resolved. However, further reflection and consultation has made me realize the time for silence is over. TechnoBuffalo is a news outlet, and this situation quite clearly has become news. We stand firmly behind Noah, disagree with the frivolous suit PhoneDog has filed, and hope swift justice will be served. This equates to school yard bullying, and should be met with disgust by the world. We stand behind our people as we would family. Noah has the full support of the Herd. I urge you all to speak up!
President, TechnoBuffalo LLC
From Noah Kravitz, Editor-at-Large of TechnoBuffalo LLC
For the past twelve months or so I’ve been engaged in an unfortunate dispute with a former employer. We had – still have, really – a dispute over a contract and back wages. I decided from the get-go not to speak publicly about it; there was no need to air my dirty laundry in public, let alone try to capitalize on it by putting negative energy out into the world. My fight with them has been a frustrating and saddening one but also a private matter, and my job is to talk about consumer electronics and the digital lifestyle, not who owes me how much over what contracts.
But now things are different. A year later I’m being sued for $340,000 and the rights to use a Twitter account. The suit attempts, amongst other things, to place a monetary value on the worth of an individual follower of a social media account. Human being or spambot, you’re all worth two bucks and fifty cents. Per month. Just for fun, multiply $2.50 by @ladygaga and her 17,355,730* Little Monsters. I’ll do it for you: $43,389,325.00 USD. That’s 43 million dollars per month, rounded down. I wonder how many countries on Earth, let alone private corporations, generate that kind of monthly revenue?
My run of the mill employment spat has taken on the context of a “landmark case in the history of social media,” according to The New York Times, CNN, and @samtaracollier’s blog. I’ve spent the past week living life on the other side of the lens – making news instead of reporting on it, you could say. And so I suppose the line between airing dirty laundry and talking about something of import beyond my personal life has been crossed.
So here’s what you need to know.
This is a big deal way beyond the particulars of my legal matters. People are referring to mine as a landmark case because it very well could be: Social media is a grey zone to many even as it shapes the world around us. The pixel-drawn lines between what’s “personal” and “professional” have been blurred so quickly that it’s falling upon cases like this one to literally make the rules regarding the rights of employees, work-for-hire contractors, and corporations, let alone journalists and public figures, when it comes to the names and contents of our social media accounts.
This could affect the future – all of our future – and that’s the only reason it’s worth writing about. What was once about a great partnership gone bad has transformed into a matter that literally could write the laws that govern how tens of millions of people communicate with one another. I hate being hyperbolic, but honestly, that’s why the TV people are calling me. The case will “establish precedent in the online world,” or so say the papers.
Media is in an incredible state of upheaval and revolution right now. When I was seventeen I was a minor celebrity in my community for being picked up as a stringer for a local paper, writing about high school tennis teams and the like. My words appeared in actual print in front of an actual audience, however small, and it was a miracle! Twenty-one years later literally anyone with Web access can publish a blog, Twitter feed, or Facebook page and reach millions instantly. We call it Going Viral. The world is changing and the rules that govern this new world of “media,” “publishing,” and “ownership of content,” are being written as we go.
The social media explosion brought on by Facebook and Twitter and umpteen other social networks of the moment has literally turned everybody into an author, whether you’re employed by a typical publisher, you’re an entrepreneur who calls yourself a journalist, or you’re “just” an average citizen armed with Instagram and Tumblr.
What’s so alluring and powerful about social media is the potential for dialogue and direct one-on-one and one-to-many conversations. It’s all about choice. I choose what to tweet, you choose who to follow. And vice-versa. My personality can come out, you can call me on my mistakes, and I can engage with you – or not. It’s instantaneous, it’s exciting, it’s fun, and it’s addictive. And, apparently, social media done “right” is held in high esteem in the minds of advertisers and marketing mavens. It doesn’t matter if you’re trained as a journalist, work in the marketing department, or are a high school student who loves to microblog: We all have voices, and those voices can reach more ears than ever before. The yet-to-be written rules that govern how we’re allowed to use and listen to those voices will become amazingly important to all of us – future generations perhaps most of all.
That same company that once referred to me as a Micro-Celebrity? Now they call me an Influencer. I have influence. We are the Influencer Network, a network that sells ad space for companies based on the influence of their individual authors as much as the collective weight of their Website hits and YouTube views. Our influence is worth something commercial: Advertisers see it in terms of dollar figures. Me, I see it as something far more precious than gold. Social media influence literally is the chance to be heard, the chance to spread ideas and encourage dialogue across time and space.
Social media, at its best, fosters connections and dialogue and brings people together across distances and cultures. Sometimes we connect in the name of commerce, other times to share technology news, and yet others for reasons of the utmost importance to our human condition. Twitter, in particular, is beautiful for its efficiency: 140 characters puts so little stress on the end user, as all but the most outdated of network devices can handle tweeting and downloading streams. Forget about my “problems”: Access on that basic a level is an unfathomably huge deal for the millions of people on our planet who so desperately need the information and paths to communication made available by a global network borne out of a near-ubiquitous technology like SMS messaging. Am I saying that Twitter alone can cure world hunger? No. Am I saying that communication and understanding are key to tackling any of the issues we as a collective people face right now? You bet I am. And social media is an incredibly powerful tool in our “21st Century Ham Radio kit.”
The idea that I find myself at the center of a battle that could literally wind up affecting the ways in which future generations communicate is frankly a little hard to wrap my head around. And I have a giant, shiny head, so that’s saying something. Whatever your point of view, don’t wait for the courts or the media or anyone else to decide the future of social media rights. Learn the facts, read the opinions, talk and tweet and listen and comment – take the time to get informed and help shape policies before they’re written.
This isn’t about me. This is about us. All of us and our children to come. As crazy as it feels to write that, I now understand how true it is. So if I may, I ask one thing of you, whatever your opinions: Get involved!
* – According to twitaholic.com, as of 12:41 pm PT, Dec 28, 2011.