Social Media and Law: Five Huge Mistakes to Avoid
Earlier this year an interesting case started making the rounds across news sites in the United States. A woman from North Carolina was suing Anheuser-Busch, makers of beer brands such as Budweiser, Rolling Rock and Shock Top for using her image in a promotion.
The woman claims that her friend posted the photo on her own Facebook page after a night out at a bar. The beer company claims it was posted on their Facebook page as part of a promotion and was within their legal rights to use, as per their terms and conditions.
It brings up a good point, however: how many companies are putting themselves at risk through their social media use?
1. The Thin Line Of Legality
Ask any expert and they will tell you that the law is slower than technological progress. We are still trying to work out the criminal implications of cyberbullying, the responsibility of sites like Amazon when it comes to their sellers falling short of promised products, whether or not people should be fired for making offensive posts on their personal social media pages.
When it comes to something as complicated as corporate law and social media things are even murkier. Mistakes are easy to come by and while some may only have a negative impact on PR, others could have serious legal consequences that could really hurt a business.
Here are some common legal mistakes to avoid at all costs in your social media marketing.
2. User-Generated Images as Brand Content
There are two ways in which this can backfire. First, there is the issue brought up in the case above. If someone has put their photo online and you choose to use it in a campaign you could be accused of copyright infringement, or worst, violation of privacy. Both are serious lawsuit risks and you would have to prove that they knowingly provided their image and you have it in your terms and conditions to use it.
Second, there is the risk of the user being underage. Back in 2014, the makers of the candy Ring Pop were accused of violating child protection anonymity laws when they asked teens to post pictures of them wearing their candy rings on their social media pages.
Make sure you are very clear on who owns what and who is posting on your pages before you take part in any social media campaign that could get messy.
3. Reposting Something Without Attribution
Similar to copyright law, you can get in trouble for not providing proper attribution to a photo or content that you share with your followers. On some platforms, it isn’t that big of a deal, such as Twitter which has an open sharing policy and connects immediately to the original account you are sharing on.
With platforms like Instagram, it can be a little harder to ascertain. Reposting isn’t a major part of the culture there, though some people do it and it has been gaining some steam. So even when you attribute the original account it might cause a copyright violation because it wasn’t offered with a creative commons license.
Your best bet is to contact the original poster and ask if you can distribute their content with full credit to their account. Most will say yes and it will give you a line of communication to refer back to in cases of lawsuits or complaints. Even then, it could be a problem if someone else is featured in the photo other than the person who posted it if they did not give their consent as well.
This is where you want to come up with a standard agreement that the photo creator will need to sign to grant you and your followers to reuse their content. Here’s a good article on how to get the permission to repost social media content. The easiest and free way to manage those agreements is Keep Solid Sign. You can have all those agreements electronically signed and get notified once the document is reviewed and completed. This is when you can go ahead and repost the visual content.
4. Influencer Posts Not Being Clearly Labeled As Sponsored
Influencer marketing is a major part of social media promotion these days. Unfortunately, the FTC is starting to get stricter about what they consider full disclosure. Where it used to be enough to just say that the influencer is posting on your brand’s behalf, you now have to clearly state each time that it is a sponsored post.
You may think you are already doing this, but if there is any doubt at all it can be enough for an investigation into your marketing practices. The last thing you want is to open yourself up to those complaints, so make sure the disclaimers are obvious, separated from anything else in your content that it could get meshed into and states with no ambiguity at all that it is a sponsored post.
The fine print loophole in commercials won’t work here, folks! Pakwired gives a solid overview of Instagram policies when it comes to influencer marketing.
5. Libel, Slander and Little White Lies
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is libel. Defamation can come from anywhere and may just slip out in a moment of anger, a risk if you manage your own social media pages.
What constitutes defamation in legal terms?
- Causing any kind of harm to the target, such as losing a job, hurting a personal relationship or causing a brigade or taunts from others online that could be called harassment.
- Stating something is true when it can’t be proven, or is proven false.
- Something said to another person that results in either of the above.
These lawsuits can be hard to prove, but they aren’t impossible. Let’s say someone posts something hurtful on your page and you lash out by pointing out that they are part of a controversial Facebook group known for harassing behavior. This gets back to their employer and they are fired. That person may be able to claim defamation resulting in loss of employment, which could be a major headache for you, even if it wasn’t your fault that the information got back to their boss.
You should always be as careful as possible when posting online. If you worry about your ability to do so without causing legal issues you might want to consider hiring a social media manager who can handle your accounts for you.
Do you have any information on legal risks associated with social media use? Let us know in the comments.