Do you own your social media contacts or does your employer?

A fight at conservative news outlet The Blaze over Tomi Lahren’s Facebook page might set a precedent or two

Do you own your social media contacts or does your employer?

Who among us hasn't taken a contact list when they left a job? Whether you leave voluntarily or involuntarily, one of the things you pack up is your Rolodex, or the modern equivalent, to take with you to the next job. It's pretty much standard.

But what if you are a public figure and have a sizable social media following? Can you keep your millions of Facebook and/or Twitter followers? That issue has not been hashed out, but it might be in Dallas.

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The Blaze, a news network established by talk show host Glenn Beck, is in the midst of parting company with its highest profile on-air talent aside from Beck. The company is severing ties with Tomi Lahren, a hotheaded 24-year-old whose on-air blasts of "snowflakes" and Black Lives Matter have made her a rising star in conservative circles.

Lahren found herself on the outs with her right-wing employer after declaring on "The View" that she is pro-choice on abortion. Very quickly she was suspended from her own show and then permanently banned from the network.

That wouldn't be newsworthy here except for what came next. I can't believe I'm citing them, but TMZ reports a fight has broken out between Lahren and The Blaze over who owns her Facebook page and it's 4.2 million followers. I didn't think The Blaze had 4.2 million viewers in total.

Sources tell TMZ Lahren is adamant about keeping her millions of Facebook fans, feeling it will make her more valuable to a new employer. However, The Blaze owns her Facebook page and has cut off access to Lahren and her team. There have been no posts to the page since she was suspended.

Social media is the new Rolodex

Put the politics of it all aside. What you think of Beck and Lahren is not the issue here. What is the issue is a social media page with 4.2 million members. Social media is the new Rolodex. It's understandable why both sides want the page, but it's also a thorny issue because there is no precedent and very little law. 

The fact is this is unexplored territory and likely not covered by law. The issue of taking your contacts with you when you change jobs isn't cut and dried, either. Let's say you are a salesperson and move to a competitor. If you take your sales lists, that's giving your new employer an unfair advantage and is illegal in some cases. But with social media, the effect is unclear and unaddressed. 

In this case, I also think it's moot. Lahren is already looking for a new job, no doubt bucking for something at Fox News. Wherever she lands, even if The Blaze keeps the page, she can just set up a new page and all of her fans will migrate to that one. The Blaze will be left with a dead and useless page that's abandoned by both her fans and people who are put off by her abortion views. So, even if The Blaze prevails, they will be left holding a worthless Facebook page. 

This won't be the last case like this. Expect more fights over Facebook and Twitter followers and eventually, hopefully, some kind of law or judicial decision on ownership.

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