User Guide to Social Media and Avoiding Legal Traps

The basics

In the early stages of becoming a user of social media services such as but not limited to: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram, it is important (albeit a bit boring) to pay attention to the fine print – specifically the terms and conditions. Not only is it important to understand how much of your personal data is being collected and how it is being used, but equally getting up to speed with the rules of ‘dos and don’ts’ can help you avoid falling into any sort of legal trap.

Beware…danger up ahead!

If you post something (written words or pictures of others), which might seem somewhat controversial, then you are most likely running the risk of being accused of being offensive, inaccurate or worse yet your behaviour could amount to illegal activity. As a result, you could then get slapped with a defamation claim (i.e. libel and slander) or told that you have infringed copyright laws. Think twice about posting anything that may fall into the above categories and this could save you potential long-term embarrassment.

It’s always wise to err on the side of caution and only share as much or little details you wish the wider public to have access to. Remember, once posted, the information becomes free for all to see, so avoid posting any confidential information of you or a third party which you intend to keep confidential. There is no better way to avoid the term ‘#goingviral’.

The ‘test’ (as summed up by the BBC)

A tweet is potentially libellous in England and Wales if it damages someone’s reputation "in the estimation of right thinking members of society". It can do this by exposing them to "hatred, ridicule or contempt". It is a civil offence so you won’t be jailed but you could end up with a large damages bill. The rules also apply to re-tweets.

The best defence is if you can prove the contents of the tweet are true. You could also claim it was "fair comment" – your honestly held opinion on established facts. Another possible defence is to claim you were covered by privilege, if it was something said in Parliament or in court, or that it was an example of "innocent dissemination" – you did not know you had published the comment (it might have been an automatic system). The only way to be completely safe is to avoid tweeting gossip unless you know for a fact that it is true [1].


FOOTNOTE:

1. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20782257

For further information, please contact Dominic Green on 020 7227 7411 or dominic.green@rlb-law.com.


Disclaimer

This briefing is for guidance purposes only. RadcliffesLeBrasseur accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any action taken or not taken in relation to this note and recommends that appropriate legal advice be taken having regard to a client's own particular circumstances.