Centre for Law, Economics and Society


Social Media Unit (SMU)

The Social Media Unit (SMU@CLES) is the first forum in Europe exclusively dedicated to establish a dialogue on this new technology with the aim to influence key players in the social media space

Its mission is to bring those who want to speak, and those who ought to listen – from industry, government, civil society and academia- together, in order to identify best practices and substantiate meaningful commitments to them.

In doing so, it affords those industry leaders at the helm of a unique and valuable new form of media the unique opportunity to co-author the standards they will inevitably be held to.

What we do

The influx of social media has profoundly affected the way we interact, learn, consume, do business, and even the way we enjoy some of our most fundamental individual rights. 

The SMU exists to examine a number of complex issues raised by the recent emergence of this industry, and works with a range of partners in industry, government, policy and beyond to provide real answers to important questions. 

The brave new world of social media/the environment of social media and their impact on social and economic relations

Social media have changed the face of many things, including the way companies brand themselves and the way individuals and organizations interact with one another.

However, the change effected by social media is at once more foundational than this and has impacted the very core of our social and economic relations: altering the power dynamic between consumer and providers of goods and services, facilitating the free-flow of information, encouraging non-proprietary, non-market based modes of production, enabling transparent government, and enhancing the role of citizens in stimulating, evaluating and shaping legislative action.

Social media and the law: theoretical questions about the need for law to intervene in this complex set of social relations and regulate. How social media may change the law

If we value the shape and character of these reformed social and economic relations, we need to ask: is regulation in the social media space protective or threatening of these reformed relations?

Where once the digital space was regarded as stateless and immune from national or international regulation, regulators now act within this space with increasing confidence and effect. Do we threaten to stifle the continued development of these innovative technologies with strict legal standards? Can traditional media laws be moulded to cover new social media without threatening the Internet eco-system, broadly speaking? Should we, in light of the apparently valuable role played by social networks in self-expression and political organization, embrace a policy of ‘social media exceptionalism’, moving away from the use of strong-arm legal tools and towards soft-law initiatives, or approaches based on community or self-enforcement?

Privacy concerns

As we have seen social media become more and more integral to the day-to-day lives of individual citizens, so too have we seen a flurry of high profile privacy complaints directed at the creators of these social media. Regulatory bodies throughout Europe and the US have begun to more aggressively challenge the actions of companies whose business models rely on the use and sale of personal data.  

The Social Media Unit will probe the rationales for developing common European legal standards in the area of privacy and data protection as they relate to social media. Facebook’s settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over its’ users privacy settings is an illustration of this trend. The research initiative will involve senior members from the major companies, active in this area, and legal experts in European privacy law. It will cover the European Commission’s newly proposed ‘Right to Be Forgotten’. Can this new right protect individual users’ fundamental privacy rights (recognised in the EU Charter and ECHR) without compromising the character of the innovative technologies such users have shown they value? Does the European conception of ‘privacy’ need reassessing in light of the way social media have been embraced by users and companies alike? Are enforceable legal instruments, in the form of European Regulations or domestic statutes, to be preferred over the sort of soft-law or self-regulatory initiatives we have seen emerging, for example the social media community’s voluntary adoption of ‘Do Not Track Technologies’?

Antitrust and net neutrality concerns

Do the networked effects of social networks render them prone to anti-competitive behaviour? Are regulators correct to begin investigating abusive market power within the social media market, as the UK Office of Fair Trading has considered regarding Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram, or the United States Federal Trade Commission has considered regarding Google’s inclusion of personal data it holds in its search results?

Our launch conference discussed the role of law in protecting the users of social media in light of the centralization of these technologies. It will assess whether the traditional competition law framework is useful for analyzing new technologies like social networks; probing contentious issues such as the meaning of ‘harm’ to such users, the (arguably illusory) nature of ‘choice’ for social network users in the absence of legislation mandating data portability, and the absence of a refined remedy for competition law in this space.

We will also discuss the concept of ‘net neutrality’. Should the Internet be a space of equal access points, regardless of content? What does the rise and rise of social media mean for our understanding of this concept? Should Internet Service Providers or governments be able to filter and manipulate network traffic? While countries such as the Netherlands begin to pass domestic net-neutrality laws, what scope is there for European wide standards? Would such a European wide standard increase competition in the social and digital space?

IP and contractual design issues regarding social media agencies

Companies have begun to realize that the social media assets they possess are extremely valuable.

Does the fact that companies increasingly outsource, to third parties, the creation, development and management of their social media assets raise legal issues? Are social media accounts now a form of quasi- intellectual property? How can social media assets be protected? Do companies creating or engaging users through social media render themselves vulnerable to legal liability for content posted through these platforms?

The SMU team is currently working with a diverse range of industry, commercial, non-commercial and governmental players working in and around social media in order to prepare a research programme that will correspond to their expectations and to announce select partners for this exciting research initiative. 

Our team

Mark Adams

Mark is the UK Director of the Audience, a startup founded with Sean Parker - the creator of Napster and Facebook; Oliver Luckett - the man responsible for taking Disney to over 1 billion fan connections on social platforms and Ari Emmanael the CEO of the largest A-list talent agency in the world – William Morris Endeavor. Established in 2011 the company has approximately 170 staff with offices in London, LA and New York. They recently raised $20 million investment with the goal of turning the world’s largest network of A-list actors, athletes, musicians and entertainment brands into the world's largest publishing company. Mark is also a Co-Founder of the Social Media Unit.

Prior to the Audience, Mark was CEO and co-founder of Union, one of the world's first social media agencies. Mark lectures extensively at industry conferences and events worldwide, and holds a Bachelors degree in Law from the University College London and a Masters degree in Constitutional Law from the University of London.

Martin Adams, SMU coordinator

Martin Adams is a graduate of Harvard Law School, the University of New South Wales (Sydney) and UCL. He has conducted research through the Berkman Centre for Internet and Society at Harvard University and worked on behalf of the artist Shepard Fairey in his famous intellectual property dispute concerning the Obama ‘Hope’ poster. Martin is a Co-Founder of the Social Media Unit, and has also worked at a leading constitutional law think - tank in the United Kingdom. 

As an entrepreneur Martin has focused his energies on companies in the media, culture or education space, including companies focused on digital marketing, geo-location and social media. He has also worked as a social media consultant for a variety of for-profit and non-profit organisations and negotiated partnerships at Songkick.com.

Previously, as an attorney at Kirkland and Ellis in New York, Martin advised on joint ventures and partnerships, and counseled startups and private equity firms on intellectual property, privacy, licensing and other issues related to doing business on the Internet.

Alexey Ivanov

Alexey Ivanov is a director for legal policy and social development at the Skolkovo Foundation; widely described as Russia's Silicon Valley, and the region's center for the development and commercialisation of technology and business. He also teaches an interdisciplinary course on Law and Information in the Globalized World at the National Research University in Moscow.

Alexey holds Masters degrees from the Russian School for Private Law and Harvard University, and he has worked at the Federation Council of Russia and in the judiciary, obtaining extensive experience as an expert in the realization of large-scale policy-making projects and legal practice. Previously, Alexey was general counsel at a leading Russian industrial group and head of M&A practice at a large investment company. He is a thought leader on global innovation and competition.

Ioannis Lianos

Ioannis Lianos (LL.B, D.E.A., PhD in Law and Economics University of Strasbourg; LL.M in Trade Regulation, New York University Law School; PhD in Sociology prob. University of Cambridge; Lauréat, Academie des Sciences Morales et Politiques, France) is Professor of Competition Law and Public Policy at the Faculty of Laws at UCL in London and the Gutenberg Research Chair at the Ecole Nationale d’Administration in France.

Ioannis is the Director of the Centre for Law, Economics and Society, a Co-Director of the Centre for Law & Governance in Europe and the Director of the Institute of Global Law at UCL Laws. Ioannis is a qualified attorney at the Athens and Paris bars. Ioannis is Chairman and Executive Director of IMEDIPA. Ioannis is the co-founder of the SMU at CLES.

He is Visiting Professor in Competition and Intellectual Property Law at the Universities of Chile in Santiago and the University of Strasbourg and Fellow at the Centre for Law & Economics at the Australian National University. He has previously been an Emile Noel Fellow at the Jean Monnet Centre at New York University School of Law and at the University of California, Berkeley.

Ioannis has been a Non Governmental Adviser (NGA) at the International Competition Network (ICN) since 2009, a research partner to UNCTAD in competition law and policy since 2010 and an elected member of the advisory board of the American Antitrust Institute since 2010.  He is the general editor (with Danny Sokol) of the Stanford University Press, Global Competition Law and Economics Series.

His primary research interest lie in European and comparative competition law, international competition law, European Union law (internal market, external relations), comparative administrative and regulatory law (public-private partnerships, public utilities law), law and economics and economic sociology.

He is the author and editor of seven books and more than 50 articles in journals and chapters in edited volumes. His most recent books include The Global Limits of Competition Law (Stanford University Press, 2012), The European Union after the Treaty of Lisbon (Cambridge U Press, 2012) and Regulating Trade in Services in the EU and the WTO – Trust, Distrust and Economic Integration (Cambridge U Press, 2012).


The Social Media Unit (SMU), launched in January 2013 with an inaugural debate focusing on the exploration of issues such as consumer rights, content regulation and the delineation between paid collateral and genuine peer-to-peer interaction.

The panel, which consisted of legal practitioners, academics and senior figures from technology heavyweights such as Songkick and Spotify, elucidated a number of areas in which social media had blurred the boundaries of traditional consumer/company interaction.

In a lively and well-attended event, the panel coalesced around the notion that traditional models of regulation could not be transported wholesale to the world of social media and that detailed industry knowledge could highlight the various ways in which skilfull marketers could ‘hack’ a platform for monetary gain.

The debate was the first of several planned events by the Social Media Unit, an initiative that is unique amongst British universities in its dedication to bringing together industry and academia in an ongoing dialogue.