Legal Implications of Social Media: Where is the Line?

The legal implications of social media might not be written in stone (just yet) but they do exist and you, as a business or individual, need to know about them.

It is no secret that employers are using social media when researching prospective employees, or business partners. In fact, 1 in 5 recent graduates has reportedly been denied a job because of something a prospective employer found on social media. That relates to the social implications of these new media. But what about the legal implications of social media? Surely, with something as clearly defined (for the most part) as the law, they cannot be nearly as severe, right?

Wrong.

There are plenty of legal implications of social media, and your social business needs to be aware of them.

Your Workplace is Now Online

In 2009, a Philadelphia police station was sued by a group of individuals who felt that a discussion online between coworkers was creating a hostile work environment.

As noted above, your personal online activity can cost you a job, but you need to realize that if you are not paying attention to your employees’ habits online, you are as at fault as they are. It might sound like an extra workload, but ignoring social media is not an option – neither internally nor externally.

As a social business, you need to inform your employees of your expected best practices. The reputation and credibility of your firm might rest on it.

Know Your Limits

It is no secret that your best brand advocates can be your employees. You know they are loyal to your brand, and there is nothing legally or ethically wrong with asking them to share your company’s content in an effort to increase your reach. But you need to know just how far you can take that.

You are not allowed to require your employees to provide you with access to their social channels. The law might not have caught up to technology entirely, but the right to privacy is still alive and well. It might seem obvious for most business owners and managers, but for some, that is not the case. Understand your limitations when it comes to your internal process.

Words Matter

For a social business, anything written online is representative of your brand’s culture. For better or worse, people formulate opinions based on what they see. Now, objective comments and status updates are (usually) harmless, but it is in your best interest to stay away from touchy or potentially harmful subjects.

From an internal perspective, you do not want to create that hostile work environment mentioned above. You also do not want to use employees’ social channels as a means of blackmailing them. This can lead to a discrimination suit.

From an external perspective, the laws of libel and slander are still in effect. Not only is it bad form to criticize competitors on open forums – your best way to get past them is by providing a better product or service – but if you are not careful, you could wind up saying something that is not true. When that is in writing, you open yourself up to a world of unpleasantness.

The law is still catching up to social business. There is quite a ways to go, and each industry is going to have different standards when it comes to the medium. There exist, however, certain elements that we already know about, and these should be considered when you are putting together your social business strategy.

What stories can you think of that relate to the legal implications of social media? Tell us in the comments below or on Twitter!

 

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