Twitter, Twitter on the wall, who is the owner of us all? If a Twitter account lives and dies by its volume of followers, should such an account live and move with the one who Tweets, or stay with the one who owns the place where the Tweets originate? With social media being the latest frontier, this is another issue for exploration. This issue is at the heart of a lawsuit being brought by PhoneDog against Noah Kravitz. Before the bad blood, Kravitz worked at PhoneDog, a mobile phone review site. Along the way Kravitz got a Twitter account which eventually attracted 17,000 followers. Then Kravitz moved on to a new job and his followers followed. Then PhoneDog followed with the aforementioned lawsuit, saying that Kravitz followers were the equivalent of their customer list and as such Kravitz only owned the followers while he was at PhoneDog and therefore he could not take them with him.
At the heart of such a dispute is the idea of social media followers as a sort of commodity that can be owned and traded. In a situation where say, an engineer developed and patented a product while being employed at a company, the company would have rights to that patent. But social media is a different animal. In some cases corporations might encourage someone to use their personality and smarts to increase their following volume. These personalities might be encouraged to mix business and personal Tweets for a more authentic and personalized appearance. They might Tweet about where they’re eating or how they’re using their smartphones at a nightclub, for instance. But once employees move on, the question of follower ownership can get ugly. Other cases, such as one involving LinkedIn contacts, are also pending. It’s one more thing for businesses to consider when jumping into the social media world.