Out to lunch? Mediators, judges and potential ethical conflicts of using social media

I was just about to publish the post below when I received notice of a new posting by Jordan Furlong on Stem’s Law Firm Web Strategy Blog: In our private universe:  Being yourself on social media. While I find myself hesitant to now publish it, without spending time analyzing how Mr. Furlong’s thought-provoking comments actually impact my thinking, I hope that my post – in its original form – can somehow add to what I believe is an important conversation.  So, without further ado, here it is:

The November 4th news item, Paper on Judges’ Use of Social Networking, posted on the Courthouse Libraries BC website has got me musing about potential ethical conflicts of mediators using social media.

Written by the University of North Carolina’s Michael Crowell, the paper looks at judges’ use of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social networking tools, and how some states have reacted to this.  While the whole paper is quite an interesting read, it is the summarized areas of agreement by the states’ ethics committees which caught my attention.

Here’s that summary:

(1) Judges may join on-line social networks.

(2) Accepting a lawyer as a friend on a social network does not by itself establish such a special relationship as to imply that the lawyer has special influence and does not by itself require the judge to recuse from cases with that lawyer, but may create such problems when combined with other circumstances. In Florida and Oklahoma, though, the potential for others to have the mistaken impression that a social network friendship brings special influence is enough to forbid judges from friending lawyers.

(3) Social networks create opportunities and temptations for ex parte communication that judges must be careful to avoid.

(4) Judges are still judges when posting materials on their social networking pages and need to realize that the kinds of comments and photographs posted by others may not be appropriate for them.
(Judicial Ethics and Social Networking Sites, p. 7)

While reading this summary, I found myself mentally replacing “judges” with “mediators”, and making a few other related changes.  This is what the summary says in my reworded form:

(1) Mediators may join on-line social networks.

(2) Accepting a lawyer as a friend on a social network does not by itself establish such a special relationship as to imply that the lawyer has special influence and does not by itself require the mediator to recuse from cases with that lawyer, but may create such problems when combined with other circumstances. ..The potential for others to have the mistaken impression that a social network friendship brings special influence is enough that mediators should refrain from friending lawyers.

(3) Social networks create opportunities and temptations for ex parte communication that mediators must be careful to avoid.

(4) Mediators are still mediators when posting materials on their social networking pages and need to realize that the kinds of comments and photographs posted by others may not be appropriate for them.

The fit isn’t perfect, obviously, but I think this raises some interesting ethical questions for mediators to consider.  What do you think… am I out to lunch?

Photo credit:  “?” by TW Collins (CC license)

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