In the last few years social media has irrevocably changed our lives. Some of the change is good, and some of the change is bad. Social media brings people together and facilitates familial, social and business relationships. As with all technology, or anything else in life, common sense and good judgment are essential. Without common sense and good judgment, social media can be harmful, and it can have dire social, financial and legal consequences.
In my law practice I have seen or heard about many instances where people have used poor judgment. When poor judgment goes viral, watch out. The following is a list of ten things you may want to consider before you post, tweet or video.
1. The things you say may have legal consequences: Be careful what you say about people on Facebook, Twitter or other forms of social media. The 1st Amendment gives us freedom of speech, but this is not an unfettered right. If you utter damaging untruths about a person, you may be liable for defamation. Slander is spoken defamation, and libel is written defamation. I recently read an article about a woman who went on Craigslist to post a rant about a contractor. Contractor sued her for libel and won. She lost twice because she was not pleased with the work, and she had to pay the contractor for her tirade.
2. Get permission before using pictures, articles, videos or content written by someone else: Using a person’s or corporation’s pictures, articles or other intellectual property without permission may be copyright infringement. To illustrate, someone came to me with a demand letter. The letter demanded hundreds of dollars for using an image from the internet without permission. This person is probably liable for copyright infringement. Even if she is not, it will cost her money to hire a lawyer.
3. Do not say or write anything on a social media site you do not want repeated: Be careful about what you say and when you say it. There are numerous examples of employers seeing Facebook posts where people have said they never “work” at their job; then the employer fires the employee. Also, who can forget the “Alabama Tea-bagger” You Tube video or the video of David Hasselhoff shirtless and muttering to himself while eating a massive cheeseburger?
4. Be careful about the pictures you post: Anthony Weiner demonstrated how one ill advised tweet can ruin a career. Smart phones make people do dumb things.
5. Do not use trademarks or copyrighted material without permission: It is against the law to use a trademark without permission. Examples of trademarks include McDonald’s golden arches and Allstate’s good hands. Businesses have spent millions of dollars to develop trademarks, and they fiercely protect them. Unless you have permission, do not use a trademark. On a related note, assume everything written, spoken or on video is copyrighted. This means someone else or a corporate entity owns it.
6. Watch out for spammers: Be wary of spammers on Facebook and other social media outlets. They may be trying to steal your identity. We have all seen “Tweet-bots” and “Facebook-bots,” so delete them as friends or followers. Better yet, never accept them as friends or followers.
7. Refrain from giving TMI: Some people chronicle their entire lives on Facebook. It is pitiful, boring and dangerous. Do you think it is a good idea to post you will be in Mexico for ten days? You might as well erect a neon sign over your house saying “break into me, and steal my new flat screen TV.” In addition, this exposes you to identity theft and blackmail.
8. Assume what you say never goes away: The internet is vast, and things said on the internet never go away. Youthful indiscretions now remain in a state of virtual perpetuity. Social media is a treasure trove for divorce attorneys. Can you imagine how quickly the “Cain Train” would have been derailed if Facebook had existed twenty years ago?
9. Police catch criminals by reading their Facebook pages all the time: Criminals like to brag, and they often do so on Facebook. Police know this, and it makes their jobs easier. If you are a criminal, refrain from posting your exploits on social media.
10. Assume people Google you and look at social media about you: I look people up on Facebook, Twitter and other social media all the time. What people say on social media outlets says a lot about them. Before you post a drunken picture from your bar crawl, think twice. A current or future employer may not like it.
When in doubt use common sense and good judgment. If you do, you should be fine.
Read more from Michael Wells here.
Image: I Can Has Cheezburger
Lawyer at Wells Jenkins Lucas Jenkins PLLC in North Carolina. Writes the daily blog southernlawyernc.blogspot.com.