Category: Education Law

  • Checklist for Social Media Influencers

    Selfie Stick by R4vi from Flickr (Creative Commons License)
    Selfie Stick by R4vi from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

    Some people, including a lot of average joes, have such a strong social media following that brands want to send them free products to review or to partner with them for a native advertising campaign. If you are lucky enough to get such an offer, you need to understand the rules and read the fine print closely to make sure you’re not setting yourself up to be accused of an FTC violation. Don’t count on the other side to educate you. As we saw in the Lord &Taylor situation, companies who seek to partner with social media influencers don’t always know and follow the rules themselves.

    If I were presented with an offer to do a product review or be part of a native advertising campaign, these are some of the questions I would ask in regards to the offer.

    Influencer-Company Relationship
    What is the company asking me to do?
    What is the company giving me in return?
    Is there fair give-and-take between both sides? (If not, it’s not a valid contract.)
    Are expectations and deadlines clear?
    Who is my point person at the company if I have any questions?

    FTC Compliance
    Does the offer require that my review be truthful?
    Does the offer require me to give an accurate review of the product? (Bonus points for companies that require reviewers to write what they like and dislike about the product.)
    Does the offer require that me to disclose my relationship with the company – both in my review itself and also any promotions I do about the content on social media (i.e., use #ad or #sponsored)? (The FTC requires this so if the company doesn’t want you to do this, turn and run. They don’t know the basic rules about native advertising.)

    Intellectual Property
    Does the offer clearly state who owns the copyright in what I create under the agreement?
    By accepting the offer, do I grant the company certain rights to use my work?

    General Legal Provisions
    Is there a written contract? (It’s avoids confusion when all the provisions are in a single document and has  provision that states, all the terms of this agreement are in this contract.)
    Is there a severability clause so if one provision is illegal, the rest of the contract remains in place?
    What are the rules for modifying the agreement?
    Which state law governs the agreement?
    If there’s a problem between the company and me, how will we resolve it?
    Under what circumstances will the agreement be terminated?

    Final Words of Wisdom
    Contracts are relationship-management documents, ideally written to protect both sides. If a company offers me a contract with provisions I dislike, I request changes. (I’m the queen of changing liability waivers.)

    And if there’s a word or provision you don’t apprehend, ask! Don’t sign a contract that you don’t understand, because as long as it’s legal, you’re stuck with it.

    If you are a serious influencer and get offers to do product reviews or participate in campaigns, treat your social media activities like a business. Consider hiring a lawyer to create a contract template for these situations when the other side doesn’t have a written contract. At the least, use this checklist to do a preliminary review of the offers you receive.

    If you want more information about the legal rules regarding your blog and social media, please check out The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. If you want to chat with me about social media law, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that’s shared only with my mailing list, by subscribing to the firm’s newsletter.

  • Bullying is Still a Big Problem

    Alone on the School Bus by woodleywonderworks from Flickr
    Alone on the School Bus by woodleywonderworks from Flickr

    When a stranger belittles a stranger, he’s a jerk. When he hits a stranger, it’s assault.
    When a person belittles or hits their romantic partner, it’s domestic violence.
    When a parent belittles or hits their child, it’s child abuse.
    When a child belittles or hits another child, it’s kids being kids?!?

    You’ve got to be kidding me.

    National Stop Bullying Day is on February 9th this year. I feel compelled to bring up this topic again because this is a problem that is not going away fast enough.

    Bullying is a big problem, and it’s a deadly problem. Suicide is the 4th leading cause of death of youth age 12-19 in the U.S. but it’s the leading cause of death of LGBT teens. Seventeen year-old Josh Pacheco of Michigan committed suicide two months after he came out last November. His family claims his suicide was the result of bullying. The school reported that they didn’t know it was going on, but stories from others have emerged since his death that suggest it was commonly known.

    These deaths shouldn’t happen. We all know which kids get picked on at school – you can tell that they’re miserable even if they haven’t directly reported that they’re being abused by their peers. And unfortunately, there are recent reports where families have informed the school that their child was being bullied and they allegedly did nothing. Just this week, there was a report about a mother in Gilbert who moved her daughter to another school because she was being bullied. The girl was allegedly stabbed with a pencil and physically attacked so badly that she had bruises.  The school has an anti-bullying policy in accordance with Arizona law, but officials appeared to ignore it.

    This mother did the right thing. She reported the abuse when she learned about it and she took action to protect her daughter’s safety when the school failed to do it. Could she pursue a lawsuit against the school and criminal charges against the perpetrators? Probably, but that’s a personal decision. The mother’s obligation is to her child. I hope the school takes a closer look at their staff’s lack of action when they learned of the bullying and takes steps to remedy it. I suspect the bullies in this situation will move on to a new target unless they are stopped.

    If you want to know what laws are on the books in your state regarding bullying, you can look them up here.

    If you know or even suspect that bullying is occurring, do something. Don’t say silent and let a child suffer needlessly. And remember, bullying is a learned behavior. There’s a chance that the bullies themselves need help either because they have emotional problems that their family is ignoring it or perhaps the bully is being abused and the only way they know to cope with it is to abuse someone else.

  • Texas Schools Tracking Students with RFID Chips

    The bare RFID Reader pcb by CabFabLab

    This seems pretty messed up – policies have been enacted at John Jay High School and Anson Jones Middle School in San Antonio, Texas that require students to always carry their student ID cards that have radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips embedded in them. These chips are used for attendance with the goal of reducing truancy. The school hopes the chips will keep kids from skipping school which will result in the school district getting significantly more funding.

    The problem is these chips broadcast the holder’s location 24-7. Anyone with an RFID reader can track them. According to my source, Heather Fazio of Texans for Accountable Government easily filed a Freedom of Information Act and was given the names and addresses of every student in the school district. It only cost her $30. That means if she has an RFID reader, she has all the information she would need to tract a student if she was so inclined if the person had their student ID with them. That’s frightening!

    Some students are standing up to this invasion of privacy and refusing to carry their student IDs or only carrying their old ID cards that don’t have RFID chips. They said they’ve been tormented by instructors, barred from school functions, and not allowed into the cafeteria or library.

    I don’t have a problem with requiring students to carry a student ID when they are on school property and I like the idea that schools could take attendance by having students swipe a card at the classroom door. I take issue with the school and others being able to track students when they are outside the school walls and on their own time. It’s a privacy issue and a safety issue.

    The police need a warrant to put a GPS on your car to track you. Why should a school be able to mandate that students be trackable 24-7?

    I agree that these students have no expectation of privacy when they are in public and they are required to be in school by law, but that doesn’t give the school permission to make them trackable wherever they go.

    The policy in question requires students to carry their cards in their pockets or around their necks. If I were a student in one of these schools, I’d try to disable the RFID chip by punching a hole through it and putting it on a string around my neck. I’d be complying with the letter of the law while protecting my privacy.

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    Hat tip to Sheila Dee for telling me about this story.

  • BULLY – Go See It!

    Candlelight Vigil by B. W. TownsendI had the pleasure of attending an advanced screening of Bully last week. I rarely go to the movies, so if you see me in a theatre, you know I’m really motivated to be there. If you haven’t seen it, go see it – and take your kids! It’s only showing for a short time, so get on it.

    Bullying is a life-or-death problem. Children are killing themselves to escape bullying and cyberbullying. If you don’t believe me, asked Kirk and Laura. Their 11 year-old son Ty killed himself because he was bullied so badly at school. They created an organization in his memory called Stand For The Silent to empower young people to stand up to bullies.

    Bully was originally rated R because of the language. It was only after the movie that I realized that the language that would have made it rated R was coming out of the mouths of the kids! And this is a documentary – it wasn’t scripted swearing. It’s ironic that the MPAA initially decided that children shouldn’t see the movie because middle schoolers were voluntarily swearing in the film.

    This movie will break your heart. It follows several bullied kids at different schools. It was sad to see their dejected faces that showed they’ve resigned themselves to being the bullied child with no hope that their situation could get better. One child’s story was particularly disturbing. He had almost no expression on his face. He had no friends and he was hit, strangled, and harassed every day on the bus. Even when he was asked, he never mentioned how bad things were to his family. His parents had no idea what their child experienced until the producers showed them the footage. They took their concerns to the school to only have their concerns minimized and dismissed. I hope the school has changed now that thousands of people have seen how ineffective they were.

    I was really impressed by one of the bullied kids, Kelby. She’s a lesbian and her family was rejected by their small community when she came out. Her father offered to move the family so she could live in a more accepting community and she declined. She decided to stay because she said if she moved, the bullies would win. By the end of the film, she dropped out of school because it wasn’t worth it to her to be there anymore. I admire her efforts to fight the good fight. People like Kelby are the reason why the law needs to allow kids to drop out of school at 16 and get a GED instead. If school is not a safe place, then students shouldn’t be forced to be there.

    When the movie ended, I was left asking myself, “What’s the answer?” Schools need to do what is necessary to stop bullying and not dismiss, ignore, or blame the victims. Every school should be mandated to have an anti-bullying program. Educators should be required to educate and protect their students, and if they can’t do one of those jobs, they need to find a new profession. Every person at a school (teachers, administrators, and students) should foster an environment of acceptance. If a school is not protecting its students from bullies, the school should be publically called out on sites like Great Schools and be held accountable for their ineffectiveness.

  • Is That Legal: Day of Silence

    Day of Silence by Megadeth's Girl

    The Day of Silence is coming up on April 20th. The Day of Silence was started in 1996, and it’s a day when middle school, high school, and college students refuse to speak to bring awareness to the “silencing effect of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools.”

    I think this is a great event but, as always, it raises the question, “Is it legal?”

    Does the First Amendment include the Right Not to Speak?
    Absolutely! Your right to free speech includes your right not to speak.

    Am I Allowed to Refuse to Speak in Class?
    Check with your school. In general, they can’t prohibit you from participating in the Day of Silence before school and between classes, but they may be able to require you to speak if asked a question in class. You still have a choice not to speak, but you might lose participation points in class or find yourself in detention.

    Get your school on board in advance. It would be awesome if the administration requires teachers to respect students’ right not to speak on the Day of Silence. The Day of Silence website has a template for cards that you can carry that inform people why you are being silent. This would be a good reminder for teachers if they forget that it’s the Day of Silence.

    Can I Wear a LGBT or Anti-Bullying Shirt, Sticker, or Button?
    It depends. In general, your First Amendment rights include the right to wear clothing or buttons that shows support for a cause as long as it’s not profane or lewd. However, a school is allowed to restrict speech if the school has a reasonable belief that not restricting it will cause a “substantial disruption to the school.”

    I went to a private high school and we had a strict dress code that prohibited all verbiage on clothing except for high school and college t-shirts and sweatshirts. If you have a dress code like this, you’ll have to get special permission to deviate from the dress code for the day. It’s a request worth making. There were a few times in high school when I wanted to wear my lucky shirt to school and it had illegal verbiage on it. The dean of students always approved it as long as I got her permission in advance.

    Can I Wear Duct Tape on my Mouth?
    It depends. The same rule about not causing a classroom disruption with your clothes also applies to wearing duct tape on your mouth. I think wearing duct tape would be awesome.

    A word of warning – if you go to a school where you are the target of physical assaults, you may want to use some kind of buddy system if you’re going to have duct tape over your mouth. If you get pinned to the ground and someone plugs your nose, you could suffocate.

    Can Other Students Have an Anti-LGBT Day in Response?
    Yes.  The right to free speech generally gives other people the right to be closed-minded and stupid. The Day of Dialogue was created as a counter-protest to the Day of Silence, and some conservative groups urge parents to keep their children home on the Day of Silence if a school was observing it. If your school is allowing a counter-protest, the restrictions that your school puts on you should apply equally to them.

    The official Day of Silence website has some additional resources and information. If you see anyone participating in the Day of Silence, let them know you support them, even if they can’t verbally respond. They can still give you a smile or a hug. Your support means a lot.