By Andy Tiwari
It’s a constant warning about the hazards of social media: don’t post comments or pictures on your social media sites that might come back to haunt you. Yet, we continue to see news about individuals who post items they later regret. Often people think they are protected by freedom of speech laws and can say what they please.
As usual, the law is a bit more complicated than that. In general, there are three critical things to keep in mind when posting to social sites: privacy concerns, online libel, and copyright issues.
Protecting your privacy and others is a hotspot in social media that could get you into a legal snafu. Venting on social media about your employer or sharing private company information online could send red flags to your boss or future employers that you are not trustworthy.
You should even be careful not to sabotage your own privacy. If you called in to work late saying you had a flat tire, but your social site says you checked in to a coffee shop and the gym before coming to work, the flat tire excuse won’t win you any points with the boss. Or, if you have a worker’s comp claim pending, you may not want to post on social sites you are having fun playing tennis.
From a legal perspective, you should always be careful what you post if you are involved in a lawsuit or, better yet, enjoying the fruits of having ‘prevailed’ in one.
Case in point: A former Florida principal sued his private school for not renewing his contract due to age discrimination. Soon after the school agreed to settle the case for $80,000, his daughter posted on Facebook that the school was going to pay for her summer vacation in Europe and to “suck it.” Well that post didn’t sit too well with the school’s attorneys. The school filed suit for a breach of the terms of settlement (which included a confidentiality agreement) and the former principal was ordered to return the settlement payment.
Since confidentiality in settlement is often a key negotiated promise, it’s probably best not to share too much information with anyone – even your family. But of course one can imagine how the discussion at the family dinner table might have proceeded, so if any information will be shared (which may or may not be a violation of a settlement), you should warn the person/s you’re speaking with to keep the information private.
Online libel involves posting comments that could ruin a business’ or someone’s reputation. A new battle is brewing over just what constitutes freedom of speech versus the right to post things like reviews and comments about businesses and employers.
A Virginia-based business owner has sued Yelp, an online review site, claiming he has the right to defend himself against bad reviews on Yelp. The business owner also claims he lost revenue due to the bad reviews about his carpet cleaning business. This case has gone all the way to the Virginia Supreme Court with a decision expected to be out later this month. It will be interesting to see if the court upholds the Communications Decency Act of 1996 that protects online sites from defamation claims.
If you are going to post a bad review about a business, make sure the information is not false or out of speculation; and use the phrase, “in my opinion” or something similar. Even if you post a bad review on your personal site, it can still be used in court to support a legal claim.
Copyright or intellectual property protections on social media can be very ambiguous. Many sites encourage users to post and share pictures. Companies and artists also relish the online traffic that’s generated by sharing posts. However, not everything may be “shareable.” You could be in violation of copyright law by taking images or logos from websites without written permission or paying fees to obtain it. The moment you use these images for marketing purposes or to make/collect money, that’s when attorneys draft the “cease and desist” letters. When in doubt, ask first!
If you need legal advice, schedule a meeting with Tiwari + Bell PLLC through our website or by calling (210) 417-4167