How Social Media Can Get You Into Legal Trouble ( and How to Stay Out of It)

How Social Media Can Get You Into Legal Trouble ( and How to Stay Out of It)

Social media is a wonderful tool for connecting with others and finding helpful advice. However, some social media missteps can cost you thousands of dollars in court. Just as any driver should know the rules of the road before getting into a corporate or personal vehicle, you should also understand the basic legal rules surrounding social media and your use of it. 

While these rules generally apply to everyone in the United States, it’s especially mindful to be more aware of them if you’re posting on behalf of a brand or business (whether your own or someone else’s). Corporate entities carry the weight of professional responsibility and are scrutinized more stringently by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Discussing Accidents and Injuries

If you have been involved in a car accident, sustained an injury, or have an illness and hope to apply for disability, it’s important to watch what you say on social media. Any picture of you being active or having fun could be used to build a case against you. 

Unfortunately, the law doesn’t allow for variances in health or pain, even though that’s the reality for many accident injury sufferers and those facing lifelong chronic pain. 

Fortunately, social media posts can also help you when dealing with pain and injury. Many use social media like a diary, chronicling their injuries or progress. You can use this to track your high-pain days. Additionally, social media footage and coverage of car accidents is admissible in court. If someone witnessed an accident you were injured in and posted about it, you could have some evidence. 

Despite this, it’s generally best practice to avoid discussing lawsuits or in-progress litigation on social media, or in public, at any time. While social media can help law professionals, even they will typically refrain from discussing current cases online.

Copyright Law and Social Media

Where do you find pictures to post and get more engagement on social media? If your answer is “I use whatever I find on Google,” think again. Using someone else’s image without permission is not legal per U.S. copyright law. This applies to both businesses and individual citizens. 

If you have a brand with its own social media manager, this means that this person must know the rules of the social media road when it comes to copyright. 

If you have a hard time finding images to use on social media, you can use one of several royalty-free image repositories. We recommend:

Always check the copyright information to ensure the images are free for personal or commercial use, depending on your needs.

Disclosure and Social Media

If you’ve received free samples of a product or have some kind of arrangement where another entity pays you for promoting their product or service, you need to include a disclosure on your blog posts and social media

If you’re talking about a product or service and you have not received any free product or compensation, it’s also a best practice to note that you have no material connection to that brand or product.

Additionally, the FTC has rules for running social media contests to prevent fraud and scams. 

Sensitive and Personal Data

You’ve probably seen a lot of talk about European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The GDPR is the new world standard for privacy protection, and it’s more stringent than what is currently required in the United States. 

Since some of your social media followers and website users are based in Europe, it’s best practice to comply with these privacy rules concerning how and what types of data you collect, manage, and store. Again, this applies to you whether you’re an individual actor or a representative of a business of any size.

In the United States, you also need to comply with other privacy laws, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which helps ensure the security of a patient’s personal medical information. This outlines what type of health-related data you may collect and store.

You can comply with these and other regulations by using third-party secured storage methods and data anonymization, which allows you to encrypt and protect sensitive data. Many third-party data solutions offer this, and if you’re shopping for help in this domain, make sure your solution includes encryption and anonymization. As 73% of online users have experienced cybercrime, your friends, clients, and customers are very likely aware of the importance of online security.

You can also ensure the safety of customer data by following best practices for social media privacy and security on your own personal and professional accounts.

Additionally, make sure you ensure you’re interacting with adults when discussing adult topics on social media. You should not discuss sexual activities, alcohol, firearms, tobacco, other drugs, and any other potentially 18+ topic with anyone under the age of 18. Doing so, even unknowingly, could land you in a host of trouble. 

Does Business Insurance Protect You?

Many businesses now operate entirely online. They are run by solopreneurs or have remote workforces. This changes the nature of the insurance you might need, especially if you don’t have a brick-and-mortar operation or aren’t selling physical goods.

Business insurance can be useful for an online-only operation, as you still have physical assets (like computers) and operate out of a physical location (even if it’s just your apartment). While most business insurance won’t protect you in the event of slander, it can potentially help you if you experience a data breach or deal with securing customer information.

By purchasing business insurance, following the rules outlined by the FTC, and taking steps to protect yourself, you can enhance the safety and security of your social media experience. Make sure your business insurance meets your needs and that you protect sensitive data on behalf of yourself and your customers. Always follow FTC guidelines and copyright laws to keep your communications above board.

Image Source: Unsplash

Frankie Wallace
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