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Social Media Tips for Avoiding Legal Action

With more than 30 years as practicing criminal law attorneys, we’ve seen numerous kinds of criminal law charges and cases. Sometimes they go to trial and sometimes they don’t, but one constant is the need for good legal advice and counseling throughout the proceedings. Often, we see cases where criminal charges could have easily been avoided if an individual had known more about the law in the first place. You don’t always have to wait until charges are filed before seeking the advice of experienced trial lawyers. Knowing some basic facts about the law, especially those laws that pertain to everyday activities, can go a long way to keeping someone out of trouble.

We find that this is often the case with internet laws and crimes, especially when it comes to social media. With social media use soaring in popularity, the risk for violating internet law is at an all-time high. This is especially true because not all laws have been updated to reflect the advent of the social media and the functions that the internet now serves. Sometimes, there are laws that apply to internet and social media usage that are far older than the medium itself, and therefore the application of those laws is not always clear. Luckily we have experience with internet law cases as well, so we’ve developed a few tips for keeping people out of social media trouble. Here are a few key tips for individuals and businesses to help them avoid pitfalls online.

Misleading or False Posts

Legalities surrounding false advertising and marketing stem from laws that were written for traditional media but also are applicable to social media. These laws prohibit any category of false advertising, so they’re very important for businesses that use social media. Businesses should endeavor, at all times, to remain truthful and transparent about everything they post about their business or a client’s business on the internet. The Federal Trade Commission places particular emphasis on any claims that effect consumer health and/or money.

These laws are important for business but they apply to individuals as well. Legal action can be taken against an individual for making false claims on social media if it can be argued that the individual was acting on behalf of a business or advert. In short, this is one of those laws that hasn’t quite caught up with the internet and social media, therefore its application can sometimes be broad and left to the interpretation of the courts.

You can reduce risk by:

Implementing clear guidelines for social media usage at your business. These rules should pertain to the conduct of all individuals who have the potential to influence your business and its internet presence. They should be clearly displayed at your place of work and posted on the company website.

  • Steer clear of making announcements or declarations online that you would not make offline. For example, if you wouldn’t say something about a product, whether good or bad, in front of the CEO of the company who manufactures it or their rivals, then don’t say it on the internet. This because the laws remain the same both offline & online.
  • It’s beneficial to consult a lawyer that can evaluate social media activity. This is especially true for business but it’s also true for individuals whose social media accounts be seen by the public. If you believe that your personal or company’s social media accounts may be viewed by more than just close friends, it may be beneficial to have an attorney review your online activity to make sure you aren’t violating any laws.

Sharing Employment Related Content Online

Let’s start off by covering confidentiality for those who are working within a company. Whether it be new business ideas, promotions or employment issues, many internal company matters should not be shared online. Social media may be an outlet for expression, but sharing too much can put you in breach of an employee contract or confidentiality agreement. This may include personal information, client details, business secrets, profits, losses etc. Many companies have strict guidelines as to how internal information can and cannot be shared.

If you’re just starting out at a new company, be careful not to express your opinion of the business too openly online. This has less to do with legality and more to do with simply behaving appropriately at a new job. New employees often have their social media accounts monitored more closely than those with years of company tenure. Even if you just want to express excitement about getting a new job, always check your posts and tweets twice before submitting them online. If you have to question the posts appropriateness, even once, don’t say it.

Intellectual Property and Copyright

Sharing content on the internet, no matter what form of media that content originated from, can be very messy. Many copyright and plagiarism laws haven’t been updated since the heyday of vinyl records, so their practical application in today’s world is fuzzy at best. Work republished on social media such as infographics, images, video footage or written text may breach copyright laws if not attributed properly. Sometimes that proper attribution is as simple as mentioning the name of an offer, sometimes it involves paying royalties. It all depends on what type of media you share, when you share, its original purpose and your purpose for re-posting it, as well as a myriad of other legal factors. If you have to use someone else’s content, especially if you could potentially profit from it, try seek advice from an attorney as to how to use that content legally. That being said, original content is always the best idea.

Defamation

The best way to avoid defamation is to follow the same basic guidelines for avoiding false and misleading posts. Defamation, however, has more to do with claims that may harm the character of an individual or business, so the scope of a defamation claim is much larger than that of claims for false or misleading advertising/posts. Defamation is typically classified in two categories: slander and libel. Slander being spoken defamation and libel being a written form of defamation. In court proceedings, context is often evaluated to determine whether or not comments were meant to defame a particular party. However, context can be very difficult to determine, especially when written down and shared 1,000 times online. Avoid giving options about businesses, competitors and public figures, especially if you are in the public eye or representing a business. Stick to the facts.

Avoiding pitfalls on social media can be difficult, but knowing the basics of the law will help. By following these tips, you will be able to avoid most social media mistakes through mindful posting practices. For more legal advice, be sure to check our blog regularly.