Posted by Jesse Braunstein

The progression of the Internet has led to various ethical and legal dilemmas previously unimaginable.

We’ve already covered the heated issue of typosquatting, the TechCrunch Michael Arrington controversy, as well as the relationship between politics and Twitter, here at SheBytes.

A new piece of news from CNN returns once more to the hottest social media site of 2011; Twitter.

The article is about a lawsuit brought against a previous employee; Noah Kravitz, of the company PhoneDog; a well-known website dedicated to “the best phone news and phone reviews”, for $340,000, over the alleged misuse of his Twitter account (@noahkravitz).

As a concise introduction to the issue at hand, I’d like to discuss why exactly it was that I had trouble deciding which category this post should go in (I was debating between ‘Business’ and ‘Soul’), and I eventually settled and placed it in both. The reason I had such a tough time, is the tension here that I found between issues of legality and morality.

As we will see, both play a role.

PhoneDog is suing Kravitz because after Kravitz was fired he “continued use of a Twitter account he was “given use of” while employed with PhoneDog, which they feel, “damaged the company’s business, goodwill, and reputation.”

During his run with the company and as well as his Twitter time after leaving, Kravitz amassed a considerable Twitter following, which he feels is a tribute to his success of nicely melding his personal tastes with those of the company.

This is something that I totally agree with and find to be a crucial component of Twitter activity. In my own case for example, I often use Twitter as a platform to broadcast SheBytes news, but I also enjoy tweeting about my own life (@JesseBraunstein), which I feel (and hope), makes me more likeable.

As in any other aspect of life, nobody likes a sellout.

If a company has its own Twitter handle which is managed internally, the company can tweet and use Twitter solely to the company’s own advantage and I find that completely acceptable and worthwhile. But if the company gives that Twitter account a personality, by tying the company name to an individual’s handle (like Kravitz’), then they had better be aware that this gives him free reign to be himself in his broadcasts; which I think makes for a much more interesting account to follow.

The idea of ownership of a Twitter account, I guess in some way is tied to the issues surrounding intellectual property rights. After all, the account isn’t a physical entity but rather something that is an idea; an online organism that is intangible yet valuable, a completely individualistic brand.

After Kravitz left PhoneDog, he made sure to change his Twitter handle to take out the portion that had the company name in it. The reason for the lawsuit is that PhoneDog has now decided that with the accounts considerable investment and online interest, it can be a valuable asset to the company.

Just how valuable?

Well PhoneDog has figured that “the Twitter account garnered about 17,000 followers…according to industry standards, each follower is valued at about $2.50 per month, so incorporating that value, the company arrived at the $340,000 claim.”

They are now duking it out over ownership for the account, which I feel is something that is Kravitz’ own property.

Let me know if you disagree, but Kravitz had the account prior to his starting to work for PhoneDog, was able to maintain a tweeting approach which was both in the best interests of the company (including your personality in tweets is a surefire way to grow a following), and in the best interests of his followers, and he has managed to accrue an additional 6,500 followers since his departure from the company.

I’m rooting for you Noah!

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