IRS Personal Use Policy
Your tax dollars at work:  The IRS has issued a new personal computer use policy that prohibits employees from using government computers to access social networking sites.  Other personal-use websites, such as Craigslist, dating sites, and pornographic sites are also off-limits according to the new policy.

Department of Veterans Affairs Social Media Policy
Not wanting to be outdone by the IRS, the Department of Veterans Affairs has also issued a new policy providing guidelines to ensure the privacy and security of personal information that appears in social media used by the department.  The policy includes directives regarding privacy policies, protection of First Amendment rights, regulatory compliance, and removal of inappropriate user comments.  Interestingly, the VA’s announcement of the new policy states that the VA has “over 100 Facebook pages, more than 50 Twitter feeds, two blogs, a YouTube channel, and a Flickr page.”

LinkedIn Privacy Concerns
LinkedIn, which has largely avoided the privacy-related controversies that have plauged other social networking sites, announced that it would not move forward with a plan to place users’ photos and recommendations in advertising displayed on its network.  LinkedIn’s head of marketing solutions products told users “we hear you loud and clear” after the company received complaints about the plan.

FTC Won’t Be Investigating Ashton Kutcher
Initial reports indicated that the FTC was preparing to harsh Ashton Kutcher’s buzz.  The word on the street was that the actor was facing questions from the Man about his failure to disclose his investments in Internet companies profiled in the online-only issue of Details magazine that he edited and posted on social networking sites.  Luckily for Mr. Kutcher, the bad vibes were dispelled when an FTC spokesman subsequently announced that everything was copasetic and there would be no investigation.

Facebook User Engagement on the Decline?
Feeding our insatiable appetite for social networking statistics, a new study suggests that user engagement with certain Facebook activities may be declining.  According to the study, Facebook activities such as virtual gifting, messaging to friends, joining a group, searching for new contacts, installing an app, and instant messaging are all on the decline.

Record Traffic for Facebook and Twitter
On the other hand, comScore’s July 2011 traffic numbers show that Facebook and Twitter both drew record traffic in terms of unique U.S. visitors for the month.  Facebook saw 162 million unique visitors, while Twitter drew 32.8 million uniques in July.

Pew Internet Survey: Social Media Is Not Taking Over the World Yet
On the third hand, a recent Pew Internet  survey indicates that social media use is not (yet) ubiquitous in the U.S., with only half of U.S. adults reporting that they use social media.  In the U.K., results of the annual survey from the Office of National Statistics indicate that 57% of the U.K. population aged 16 and over is now using social media.  All of these statistics can get confusing, but one thing is certain:  social media either is or is not taking over the world.

Facebook Gets Advanced Privacy Controls
Facebook announced significant changes regarding privacy, content sharing, and tagging.  Among other things, individual items of content on a user’s profile page now have drop-down menus that let the user change who can see the content – the public, just friends, or custom settings.  Previously, users had to go to the separate privacy settings page to make such changes.

Google+ Still Requiring Real Names
In our last issue of Socially Aware, we reported that William Shatner’s Google+ account was temporarily suspended for an unspecified rule violation.  Sex and technology blogger Violet Blue ran into similar problems recently when her Google+ account was shut down because Google mistakenly believed that she had not used her real name to sign up for the service.  Google apologized for the error, but for the time being is sticking to its requirement that users identify themselves with their real names when using the social network.

Does the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act Violate the First Amendment?
Bringing to mind War’s 1975 hit “Why Can’t We Be Friends,” a Missouri teachers union is suing to block the “Amy Hestir Student Protection Act,” which would restrict contact between teachers and students on social media sites.  According to the teachers, the new law violates teachers’ constitutional rights to free speech and association.

Lamebook Trademark Dispute
Reports are that Facebook and Lamebook have settled their trademark dispute with an agreement that lets the parody site continue to operate under its current name, as long as it adds a disclaimer to its website and does not seek to register its name as a trademark.  Our previous coverage of the Facebook/Lamebook dispute can be bound in the December 2010 issue of Socially Aware.

CAN-SPAM Does Apply to Facebook Ad Campaigns
Expanding upon the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in United States v. Nosal, Judge Jeremy Fogel of the Northern District of California recently held that an Internet marketer may be liable under CAN-SPAM and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and for fraud, based on using Facebook to conduct advertising campaigns in violation of Facebook’s terms of service.  Judge Fogel’s most recent ruling in Facebook Inc. v. MaxBounty Inc. follows his prior order in the case, which we covered in the April 2011 issue of Socially Aware.

Lawsuit Against Facebook Tossed
Freedom Watch founder Larry Klayman apparently felt that the New York federal judge who tossed his $1 billion suit against Facebook, arising from allegations that Facebook was too slow to remove an anti-Jewish page from its site, showed a bit too much chutzpa.  According to reports, Klayman stated, “In my 35 years of legal practice, I’ve seen judges dismiss cases like this, thinking they can do whatever they want.  But they have to obey the law like we do.”  A Facebook representative, on the other hand, asserted that “lawsuits such as this – which seek to hold Facebook liable for failing to screen and remove content posted by its users – are precisely what the CDA was enacted to foreclose.”

Gilbert Arenas Tweets Are in the Public Interest
Loose tweets sink claims:  Orlando Magic point guard Gilbert Arenas sued in California federal court to prevent broadcast of the VH1 reality TV show “Basketball Wives:  Los Angeles”.  The athlete claimed that the show improperly used his name and likeness to imply that he was involved in the program.  District Judge Dolly M. Gee held, however, that Arenas’ prolific tweets, in which he described various details of his daily activities to thousands of followers, meant that he could not persuasively argue that his personal life is not a matter of public concern.  Publication of matters in the public interest is a First Amendment-based defense to California’s right of publicity law.  Free speech advocates and reality TV fans everywhere are no doubt breathing a sigh of relief.

Distilled Spirits Council Social Media Policy
The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States has issued new self-regulatory industry guidelines for advertising of alcoholic products on social media websites.  According to the new guidelines, only social media websites where at least 71.6% of the audience is reasonably expected to be age 21 or older will be permitted to advertise such products.

Facebook’s Motion to Dismiss Denied
A federal court in Texas denied Facebook’s motion to dismiss or transfer to California a declaratory judgment suit filed by Lamebook, a self-described parody website that Facebook asserts is infringing its trademarks.

New Jersey Supreme Court on Defamatory Comments
The New Jersey Supreme court held recently that a person who posted allegedly defamatory comments on an Internet message board cannot invoke the protections of New Jersey’s news media shield statute.

Myspace Threats
According to the Virginia Court of Appeals, a defendant’s posting of threatening lyrics on his ex girlfriend’s MySpace page constituted communication of a written threat within the meaning of Virginia Code § 18.2-60(a)(1).

Privacy Policies Survey
In a recent survey, 31% of respondents claimed to have read all of the privacy policies of the websites they used.  Even though we draft website privacy policies for a living, and would like to believe that such policies are widely read, the 31% figure seems high to us.

Google Buzz Class Action
As Google rolls out its new Google+ social networking service, a federal judge issued final approval of the $8.5 million settlement in a class action suit brought by Gmail users who alleged that Google exposed their personal information without authorization through “Google Buzz,” the search giant’s previous foray into social networking.

Facebook Facial Recognition Violates German Law?
Facebook’s new facial recognition feature has sparked objections from a German data protection agency, which claims that it violates German data protection laws.

New Lawyers in Facebook Suit
Paul Ceglia, the man suing for a 50% stake in Facebook, apparently needs new lawyers.

Twitter Co-founders Solving Big Problems
Reports are that Twitter co-founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams have stepped back their involvement in the microblogging service and will be starting a new venture.  The Obvious Corp. has set itself an ambitious program of “solving big problems” and helping develop systems that “improve the world,” according to Stone’s blog.

Reward Points for For Facebook Ads
American Express cardholders can now use their rewards points to buy ads on Facebook.

Justin Timberlake buys MySpace
Remember when you switched from Friendster to MySpace because MySpace was the hot new thing in social networking? Well, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. recently sold the former hot new thing to a group formed by Justin Timberlake and a California-based digital advertising agency for $35 million, just 6% of the $580 million that News Corp. paid for the company in 2005.

LinkedIn Take Number Two Spot
In what may be a related development, it has been reported that LinkedIn has overtaken MySpace to become the second most visited social networking site in the U.S. after Facebook (and Twitter is not far behind).

Facebook Declining Traffic
Of course, even the mighty Facebook may not be completely immune from declining traffic:  a number of media outlets reported that Facebook lost users in the U.S. and Canada in May 2011.  Facebook issued a statement that the reports are inaccurate.

Isn’t It Ironic
Apparently Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is the most followed user on Google’s new “Google+” social networking service.  Google bigwigs Larry Page and Sergey Brin are a relatively distant second and fourth, respectively.

Don’t Post Facebook Threats in Minnesota
The Minnesota Court of Appeals has held that a college student’s threatening Facebook posts substantially disrupted activities at the school and, therefore, the school’s imposition of disciplinary sanctions did not violate the student’s First Amendment rights.

350 Billion Tweets Each Day
Twitter, founded just five years ago, reached a new milestone:  the micro-blogging service reports that it now delivers 350 billion tweets each day.  Twitter also announced that a new tweets per second (or “TPS” as we say in the biz) record had been set, with 7,196 TPS at the end of the Women’s World Cup soccer game.

Google + Users
Not to be outdone in the social media statistic game, Google’s recently-launched Google+ service reportedly hit the 25 million user mark just a month after its launch, and may be on track to sign up 22 percent of online adults in the U.S. within a year, which would make Google+ the second- most-used social networking site after Facebook.

Don’t Violate Google +’s Terms of Use
In other Google+ news, some outlets are reporting that users who violate the Google+ terms of use may find themselves barred not only from Google+ itself, but also from other Google services such as the search giant’s Gmail email service.

Nirvana and Facebook’s Rules on Nudity
Speaking of terms of use violations, the rock band Nirvana recently had images of its classic album “Nevermind” (which, incidentally, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this fall—feel old yet?) yanked by Facebook because the iconic cover image of a naked baby boy floating in the pool ran afoul of Facebook’s rules regarding photos that include nudity.

Shatner Shut Down on Google+
Actor William Shatner, however, had better luck with his Google+ account, despite being temporarily shut down for “violating standards.” Shatner tweeted that he did not know what rules he had violated, writing, “Saying hello to everyone apparently is against the rules.”  His Google+ account was up and running later that same day.