Most businesses are involved in Social Media in some way, shape or form. Facebook alone has 845 million users. If you think your employees are not on Facebook or some other form of social media, think again! And it’s not just Facebook; there are many different social media sites available including location based services like Foursquare.
However, the legal system has not been able to keep up with the growth of social media platforms. In fact, there are still just a few cases that have actually gone to litigation, many of which settle prior to going to court.
At some point the legal system will have to begin making rulings for acceptable practices online. Many people and businesses don’t understand that there are legal consequences for what you do on line.
If you own a business, one of the best ways to avoid a lawsuit is to have a clear social media policy manual. If an employee is terminated for violating your social media policy, this policy must have been made clear or the employer could be subject to a lawsuit.
Some of the biggest areas of infraction are copyright laws, trademark laws, defamation and employment laws. The legal system is still working with existing laws and finds it very hard to keep up with all the new issues involving the internet and social media. The courts have no history to guide them in these unfamiliar contexts. Existing laws can be interpreted in different ways by different attorneys and judges. Nothing is official.
The world is in a social media revolution. Most companies are making mistakes and breaking laws and they don’t even know it.
One of the biggest laws being broken is in Copyright and Trademark. If you don’t have the right to use copyrighted or trademarked property online, you’re breaking the law. The Federal Trade Commission requires that if you are writing about a product you received for free or from a client, or you are a paid blogger, you must disclose that information. Failing to do so is breaking the law.
If you choose to mix personal information along with information about the company you work for in social media, without disclosing the fact that these are your personal opinions, you are breaking the law.
Privacy is another big area the legal system is struggling with. Who owns the data on the internet? Who owns the personal information that is collected through social mediums? Is it legal to sell this information to advertisers?
Many companies are running sweepstakes and ads on their social media sites such as Facebook. If you don’t use an official Facebook developer and follow all of their rules, you have just opened your company up to a legal suit. Many companies are using verbiage and running contests that Facebook and other social media sites don’t allow.
Several years ago Burger King ran a campaign on Facebook that was not compliant with Facebook legalities. Burger King was forced to pull the campaign and in so doing wasted a lot of money.
My advice is to either use a social media developer or an agency that is well versed on the things you can and can’t do. By developing an app only to be pulled by Facebook legal, your company can waste a lot of time and money.
At the very least, your company should put together a clear employee social media policy. Include in the policy that the content your business is sharing is not copyrighted or trademarked and anything you do use gives full disclosure to satisfy the Federal Trade Commission guidelines.
I believe a big social media lawsuit is right around the corner. When that happens, companies will be forced to take notice of social media and internet legalities.