Watch Your Constitution: The Law and Social Media

July 22, 2016

When it comes to social media, most of us are safe from the wrath of the law. After all, how much trouble can the odd meme get us in?

But, in between sharing wanderlust-worthy pics from your latest trip to the Amalfi Coast, you might also find yourself posting some posts infused with opinion. It’s these posts that you need to watch out for as, even though you’re entitled to your right to free speech, your beliefs could be outside the bounds of the law.

We’ve already spoken about how important it is to choose copyright-free images, but how else can you ensure you’re kept out of legal hot water? Here, we give you the low-down on what you need to know before you take to the internet. Stay safe.

What’s the deal with social media?

In the past, anyone writing for a newspaper or magazine probably had extensive training in the field and, even if they did make a legal blunder, they had a team of lawyers to back them up. Now though, with the rise of the citizen journalist, anyone can create an account and post to their heart’s content. Where we fall into trouble is with the lack of education. Laypeople are pressing Publish without realising that their Tweet could be landing them in a bit of strife.

Social media is not a free-for-all. The laws that apply in everyday life are still valid in social realm, and we all have a responsibility to follow them to a T.

Now, that’s an expensive Tweet!

The law does not come down lightly if you make a legal blunder. One of the pricier tweets in history came when an Australian schoolboy made a series of allegations about his teacher. The tweets, which defamed the teacher’s personal reputation and had the potential to ruin her career, sent the two to court. The student was ordered to pay a hefty $100,000 in damages. That was one expensive tweet!

Avoid blowing your whole social media budget on a legal suit. Stay away from posting anything that could be defamatory and you’ll be ok.

But what is defamation?

Put simply, defamation is the online equivalent to school yard gossip: it’s mean, hurtful and not based on fact. If you write something nasty, the subject of your post has every right to seek legal action against you. And, if you can’t prove that what you’re saying is true, it’s up to you to pay damages to the victim. Think twice and play nice.

To delete or not?

If you’re a business with a Facebook Page (and you should be!) you’re going to run into some negative reviews at some point. Yes, we know you don’t deserve them – the customer is just being irrationally angry – but they will happen.

Let’s say Shirley comes on to your wall to complain about the lacklustre service she received in store. She’s disappointed that she didn’t receive more attention and is encouraging other people to boycott your service and shop somewhere else. She’s kicking up a storm and people are getting angry. Bad for business, right?

As business owners, our natural reaction is to quickly hit the delete button so Shirley doesn’t cause any more trouble. According to consumer guidelines, though, this is a bad move. The ACCC – Australia’s consumer watchdog – says that in the interests of fairness, all reviews should be left intact, whether they’re negative or positive. By deleting Shirley’s angry post (even if you know she’s wrong), you’re manipulating the conversation and creating a false representation of your business.

Instead of removing all evidence, break out your inner diplomat to soften the situation. Write a couple of calmly worded posts that give readers the facts – you’ll portray your business in a better light and stick to the ACCC rules as well. (Dan from Optus will give you some helpful tips on how to do this!)

Don’t be afraid

All that said, social media is a great place to promote your business. Most people don’t run into trouble and are able to while away time sharing food snaps in peace. While you’re surfing the net, just employ some common sense and you’ll be able to enjoy the great things about social media.

Disclaimer: Here at Appscore, we’re pretty good at all things digital but we’re definitely not lawyers. As such, the above should be taken as a guideline and nothing else. Before you hit the Publish button, we recommend you seek trained legal advice. Stay safe out there – and happy posting!

Cover image source: Blogerk