Would Washington have lots of Twitter followers?

Franklin, his statue at the Constitution Center seen here, may have embraced social media.

Would George Washington have a lot of friends on Facebook? Would Ben Franklin be as prolific a quote machine on Twitter as he was in the Poor Richard’s Almanac?

The answer is yes, according to a panel discussion last Thursday at the National Constitution Center: “What Would the Founding Fathers Think of Social Media?”

“They were techies,” law professor Lori Andrews said. “I think the Founding Fathers would have found utility in social media tools, unless George Washington was crossing the river into Trenton and one of his guys posted on Facebook, ‘It’s so cold out here.’”

But with social media creating a new kind of a community, Andrews also argues our founders would also have drafted a constitution to protect online rights and privacy.

“The whole purpose of social media is to expand peoples’ opportunities; but without protections, it’s actually narrowing peoples’ opportunities because when they realize they can’t get a job because there’s a picture of them with a glass of wine in their hand on Facebook, they stop posting,” she said.

But Forbes staff writer Kashmir Hill extolled the benefits of freely available information, relaying a story about finding a woman’s things strewn on the street, seeing her name on an unfilled prescription, looking up her Twitter account and reading that her car had just been burglarized. “I told her I found her stuff and she got it,” she said. “It took three minutes.”

Jennifer Preston, the New York Time’s first Social Media Editor, suggested a balance. “The most important thing when people use these tools is to remember what your mother told you: Use good judgment.”

Pa. ‘epicenter’ of Web court cases

“Pennsylvania is the epicenter of social media cases,” said Andrews, who traveled around the world researching court cases involving the technology.
   
“Kids get expelled for criticizing their teachers on Facebook. There was the case where the school gave students free laptops with surveillance cameras in them and even cases involving jurors, where they’ll … tweet about it or post on Facebook, ‘Should we put this guy away or not?’”


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