For businesses looking to establish a presence on social media, it can seem like a wild west. However, it’s important to note that there are laws that businesses need to uphold. People on the Internet are famously very critical, so breaking one or more of these laws can tarnish a business’ image in a hurry. According to bizjournals.com, “tweets, blog posts, LinkedIn profiles, YouTube videos, text messages and email may all be considered electronic business records and used as evidence in a lawsuit against the company.” Here are five legal issues to keep in mind when establishing a social media presence for your business.
In the world of memes and viral content, It’s easy to get in the habit of sharing content without attribution. However, if that content has a trademark or copyright, you can land your business in a bit of trouble with the law. Additionally, if you want to protect your brand’s image, make sure your logo is registered as a trademark. The rule of “fair use” applies in circumstances involving product reviews, but any reference to a company that implies “endorsement, affiliation, or sponsorship” is prohibited.
Another detail to remember is the issue of open source material. According to Washington State University’s online MBA program., open source material is not to be used for “unauthorized marketing or otherwise business-focused purposes.” Repurposing content found on the web is often the path of least resistance, but if that decision violates intellectual property laws, a business might quickly find itself in hot water.
Defamation on social media generally comes in the form of libel, or a statement that damages a person’s reputation. Content posted on social media is considered published and is therefore potentially subject to the laws of defamation, no matter how many people are likely to see it.
It is difficult to monitor social media outlets for defamatory content. However, due to the scrutiny that businesses are subject to on social media, it is best to be sure that anything you post is based wholly in truth. According to Nolo.com, even if a statement is qualified as being an opinion, it can still be considered defamation.
Social media and privacy seem to be two clashing concepts at this point in history. However, while some individuals are willing to share just about anything on social media, they still maintain the right to keep these outlets hidden from employers. As the employer, you cannot request access to an employee’s private social media account, demand they adjust privacy settings, or even ask them to accept a “friend request.”
If using a customer testimonial in advertising or otherwise publicly posting a customer’s information, be sure proper permission has been given. In 2009, a woman sued a debt collector for posting details of her financial situation on her myspace page. While this is an extreme example, it illustrates how serious the implications of a simple social media comment can become.
The particulars of this type of law vary from state to state, while some states are yet to put a social media privacy law on the books.
When it comes to the hiring process, businesses must be careful not to unlawfully discriminate a candidate based on information published on their social media profiles. For example, if you come across an employee’s religious or political views and decide not to hire them based on this discovery. Conversely, be careful who you write recommendations for on LinkedIn. If you later want to terminate someone, your recommendation could be used as evidence for wrongful termination.
It’s all too common for an employee to talk about their employer on social media. Generally, it’s in the form of a statement of frustration. However, sometimes an employee might reveal something about their employer, be it in a positive or negative context. For example, if an employee was excited about what they did for a specific client and the name of this client was revealed, they just disclosed a trade secret.
To combat this, be sure your company has a clearly established social media use policy. This will dispel any confusion about what can and can’t be talked about on social media in regards to your company.
This list presents only an introduction to social media law in the business realm. Social media can be a very valuable tool for increasing the visibility of a business and marketing to a new audience. However, the realm of social media has edges that are still being defined, so it’s important for a business to stay abreast of changes in the laws that pertain to it.