Social Media - do you know the law?
Social media is a very effective way of communicating with existing and potential customers, partners and anyone else who may be interested in your product or service, but there are some pitfalls that many of us don’t realise exist.
Before the advent of social media and blogging sites, it was mostly down to journalists to ensure that they understood the law in relation to the media so they could report accurately and avoid actions such as libel or slander.
This was because they had an audience and now you do too.
Recent high-profile cases of people being held accountable for their online comments include two people who have been arrested over allegations of malicious communications for tweeting about murdered teacher Ann Maguire, while other people had to pay damages to Lord McAlpine after tweeting comments relating to false child sex abuse allegations.
It’s also important to remember that your social media presence is an extension of your business. If you react badly to a negative comment, it’s not just the person you’ve opted to engage with that will see your reply, it’s the world – and your other customers.
A hairdressing business recently hit the headlines after having an explosive rant at a customer who had complained on Facebook, and later had to do damage control to protect his reputation. Scheduling tools can also prove a headache if you don’t monitor the content properly. Tesco pre-scheduled a tweet that they were going to “hit the hay” at the end of the week, which unfortunately went out on the same day the horse meat scandal broke – not ideal.
Our top tips:
- If you publish something potentially damaging about someone, make sure you can back up what you say with the facts – otherwise you could be sued for libel (a type of defamation).
- Just because someone else has tweeted it doesn’t mean you can retweet it – re-publishing someone else’s libel is still libel.
- Beware contempt of court: once a person has been arrested or charged with an offence you shouldn’t post anything that might prejudice the outcome of a court case.
- Beware court orders: sometimes courts ban the identification of individuals to protect others. Identifying the victims of sexual offences is always against the law, and in some cases injunctions on naming celebrities or children may have also been imposed.
- Anything you post online is potentially there forever. Even if you delete a comment or post, someone might have taken a screen grab of that post.
- As a rule, if something wouldn’t be appropriate to say in person, then it’s not right to say on social media.
- Scheduling posts can save time, but make sure you know what you’ve put and have access to tools to delete it if needed.
Probably the best tip of all is if in doubt, leave it out.