The legal pitfalls of using social media

Asad Ali of Blacks Solicitors

Asad Ali of Blacks Solicitors

There's no escaping the power or reach of social media, as newspapers, magazines and books are steadily being replaced by digital content on iPads, Kindles and smartphones. As both consumers and professionals, we are never far away from a device connecting us with online content that can be instantly shared with our friends and followers – which leaves us potentially vulnerable when it comes to legalities online.

The UK's defamation and libel laws have existed for centuries, and were written long before the rise of social media. But that doesn't mean they don't apply to what we write on Twitter, Facebook and other sites; quite the reverse. Indeed, the number of convictions and/or cases being brought against those posting inappropriate, misleading or offensive content has increased significantly during the past few years.

Danger zones

Everyone is aware of the offensive comments posted by 'internet trolls' that have resulted in custodial sentences, most recently in the posts relating to the tragic death of Leeds school teacher Ann Maguire. However, there are a number of other areas that can easily catch you out when both sharing and creating online content, for example:

  • Defamation of another person or organisation by you or your staff (for example, criticising competitors or former staff)
  • Damage to your own company's reputation (for example, bad language or failure to manage complaints)
  • Breaches of confidentiality (for example, office 'selfies' where a client's files, designs or products are visible)
  • Infringement of another's intellectual property (for example, misuse of brands, photos, designs, logos or slogans)
  • Data Protection Act breaches (for example, releasing customer lists or details without consent)
  • Breaches of the advertising codes (for example, celebrity endorsements and product placements)

As a designer, it's not just a question of monitoring the use of your and others' creative content online, it's also how your business is conducted and represented.

Protect yourself

With this in mind, it's important to make sure that whether you have multiple employees, or are working as a freelance consultant, you must have appropriate policies in place to allow you to monitor, manage and take action should a branded profile be misused, whether it be in or outside of the workplace.

For any profiles that are set up by an individual on behalf of a business, including LinkedIn and Facebook, it's essential to remind your staff of their obligations and restrictions to make sure that your reputation content and designs remain in tact.

Putting the genie back

As a general rule, once online content is posted 'the genie is out of the bottle', and it's incredibly difficult to remove or mask malicious, inappropriate or erroneous posts. However, recently the European Court has ruled in favour of 'the right to be forgotten', which means that European web users can exercise their right to remove any personally connected content from the internet and search engines like Google.

There has also been an increased use of the Communications Act 2003 to clamp down on social and digital content. With the imminent arrival of legislation adopting the European Directive on Data Protection as well as the Intellectual Property Act, individuals and businesses are also expected to be given new rights surrounding data and online assets.

Although it may seem common sense to make sure that any content you post isn't offensive or confidential, it's more important than ever to ensure that your design business has a social media policy in place for both the management and content that is shared online.

Words: Asad Ali

Asad Ali is a partner in Music, Media and Entertainment Law at Blacks Solicitors.

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