Social media platforms have become a staple in today’s society and culture. Outlets like Twitter and Facebook have become breading grounds for people to express their uncensored feelings and current emotional status. But what many social media users forget is how their simple statements or shared content can turn into a lawsuit.
The area between social media usage and the law is very murky, and this gray area leaves much room for legal conflicts that people would have otherwise never imagined they would be in.
The Independent reported between the year 2013 and 2014 the UK saw a 300 percent rise in libel cases from social media users. This was largely due to the fact people were unclear about what libel is, and how to ensure a tweet will not land them in a civil suit.
Libel is a published statement that is false and defames a persons character and reputation. An opinion cannot be libelous however, in the age of 140 characters or less, who’s to say an opinion couldn’t be interpreted as a fact?
Currently, all states have various laws in place regarding cyberbullying, harassment and cyberstalking. Twenty-one states have various privacy laws in place preventing employers or educational institutions from being able to request passwords or access to social media accounts. These laws focus on privacy rights in conjunction with social media usage.
With social media law such an “it depends” area, it is best to keep these tips in mind.
Never post, tweet, blog, or write a statement that is libelous. Just because a tweet was deleted after being published for three minutes does not lessen the potential damage. There is no such thing as a permanent delete when it comes to social media and online platforms.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is one of the few federal statutes that offers protection when it comes to libel, but this pertains to the social media site and not the user. Section 230 states sharing sites like YouTube, Facebook and even blog sites where users can share or write comments will generally not be held liable for users who post defamatory statements.
Be aware of copyright infringement, and remember just because you provide attribution does not mean you didn’t infringe on the material. Copyright law can be tricky, so read up on the basics on the U.S. Copyright Law website.
Perhaps what is most important is to remember nothing disseminated via social media platforms is truly private, no matter what privacy settings are in place. When it comes to online, there is no such thing as a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Social media is meant to generate conversation, and the beauty of the First Amendment is having the freedom of speech, but exercising that right means doing so responsibly, and legally.
Note: This article is not a substitute nor does it constitute for legal council or advise, and should not be taken as such. This article is only meant to provide information on the subject matter of various laws pertaining to social media. For information regarding libel, copyright and other forms of media law, contact an attorney for specific details.