A Legal Eye on Social Media: Three Insights from One of the Industry’s Top Bloggers

by dawnsmms13

©dawnsmms13

©dawnsmms13

Last week my class in social media marketing at UD hosted a guest lecturer, Molly DiBianca, Esq., a legal expert who has made a name for herself in this relatively new field. Ms. DiBianca crushed several dearly-held beliefs (guess what? On the internet, there are no legal privacy rights! You have no right to free speech! And if you’re a blogger providing an endorsement, you have a legal obligation to disclose receipt of free goods or services). Of course there are never any true generalizations in law, and for more information you can check out her blog:

http://www.delawareemploymentlawblog.com/

or that of Eric Goldman, which she recommends:

http://blog.ericgoldman.org/

What I’m going to focus on, though, are three things that are important to the self-employed social media consultant contracting services to another organization.*

Here comes the law(suit). Are you an employee, or a consultant?
Let’s say you make a big mistake. If you present yourself to others as an employee of the organization, and it’s reasonable for the public to believe you’re an employee, then in effect you are – and the company that hired you will end up paying the bills. However, if you are clearly a contractor and make the same big mistake, you are liable. Takeaway: Sign a contract with your employer, including a clause indemnifying yourself against such legal action. And take out insurance.

“I’ll just grab this photo and post it to Facebook . . .”
Sure, you can. But most of the photos and other images available on the Internet are owned by somebody, and if that somebody is actively monitoring online violation of their copyright, you could end up being sued. Who pays? See the paragraph above. Save yourself the potential pain, and buy your images from one of the many stock photo providers, or snap the photo yourself.

You’re managing a client’s social media account, and a customer complains.
This scenario makes everyone nervous! What’s the best way to protect your client and make the customer happy?

Ms. DiBianca reminds us that the primary goal is to mitigate the situation, rather than trying to resolve the issue through social media. Express empathy regarding the negative experience, but don’t accept responsibility – remember, at this point you don’t yet know the full story. Then take the conversation offline (by phone, or by asking the poster to friend you), verify the problem, and attempt to resolve it. Should you remove the initial post? If you feel it’s warranted – and if you have a clearly stated policy, on that platform, informing visitors that you retain the right to do so. In the exceptional circumstance that you acquire a troll, it’s okay to ban the offender.

Lots of food for thought. Clearly, beneath this transparent world of social media, there is an invisible legal framework. And it just may be the biggest social media presence of all.

*The contents of this blog post do not constitute legal advice, and the author assumes no responsibility for actions arising from it. If you find yourself in hot water over any of these issues, please speak to a legal professional!

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