As free-spirited as the internet seems to be sometimes, there are still rules to abide by… and if you want to run your business legally, or are simply not interested in getting into any legal issues as they pertain to social media, then here are 6 issues that you should probably know about.
Knowing that these problems can get you into trouble will help you to be able to keep from breaking any laws or rules that you might not have known about. This list is not necessarily all inclusive, but hopefully it will fill you in on some dangers that you didn’t know existed before.
Avoid the Unauthorized Use of Trademarks
While speaking about another business or company on a social media site from a purely consumerist point of view is considered permissible ‘fair use’ of a trademarked name, wrongfully using trademarked names can result in legal liability issues. For instance, making it sound like you have received an endorsement, have an affiliation with, or are sponsored by a particular company when you are not could lead to legal action.
Avoid the Use of Copyright-Protected Content
Using copyright protected content, including text, music, photographs, videos, or even source code on your social media site without being authorized to do so by the owner may open you up to legal liability, even though you are mostly protected (in the United States) by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act if you have a means available for the owner to contact you to request that the content be removed.
It is important to keep in mind, however, that the DMCA does not protect you under ALL circumstances, so it is best to avoid posting copyright protected content altogether if you really want to avoid trouble.
Avoid Possible Defamation
Statements made on social media websites that ‘defame’ a third party could result in legal action against the poster. While it is debatable that such statements would be found sufficient for a libel case in the courtroom, don’t discount the possibility of needing some criminal defense lawyers if your audience is big enough, and the statement(s) damaging enough.
If You Have Employees, Make Sure That Your Policies Cover Social Media Use
If you have employees, then you can bet that these employees will be using social media websites on a day to day basis. But is there anything that they could say that would cause you to want to terminate them? Well, if there is, then you will definitely want to outline it in a company policy that has been read and understood by all of your employees, because the failure to make your employees aware of what could affect their job (as pertaining to what they post online) could result in a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Always Disclose Paid Endorsements
The FTC, in the last few years, has actually cracked down considerably on unscrupulous ‘marketing’ methods that make use of paid, fake reviews of companies or products… whether they are negative or positive.
As it turns out, endorsing or putting down a product or a company, without disclosing the fact that you are getting paid to do so in the same text, is against the law. So if you are paid to endorse a product, or are paying someone else to endorse a product, make sure that the post makes it clear that it has been ‘paid’ or ‘sponsored’ by the company responsible for footing the bill.
Avoid Disclosing Confidential Information
Sharing the wrong types of information, including information that is supposed to be classified, can get you into pretty big trouble nowadays. The most common cases of this rule apply to health care (or similar fields) workers who might ‘tweet’ or ‘update their statuses about a patient without that patient’s consent. This is technically called ‘sharing confidential information’, and can very easily land you in a privacy-violation lawsuit.
As a general rule, asking yourself these simple questions as you upload or post content will keep you from breaking most laws on any social media websites…
- Could I hurt anyone by posting this content?
- Could I confuse or mislead someone by posting this?
- Is everything in this posting completely unique?
- If I am posting something that I didn’t come up with, is it free to use, or do I need permission?
It can be VERY confusing to dig through all of the ‘legal’ information as it pertains to social media and social media marketing. It is a very big issue with a lot of grey areas… but thankfully, a bit of common sense and a genuine concern for the welfare of others will, for the most part, diminish the chances of you making a mistake and accidentally posting something in a way that is against the law.
Guest Author: James Martell is an internet publisher and also a successful internet marketer who makes his home on Canada’s beautiful west coast in the town of White Rock, BC. He enjoys spending time outdoors and with his family when he is not working. James often utilizes resources online when researching for articles and came across many law sites including www.bgs.com when researching for the latest information on the ‘legalities’ of social media marketing.