What are the legal risks associated with using social media?

So most of us, for personal or business, have some connection on social media, be it Facebook, Linked-in, or Twitter, but whilst you appreciate the benefits of being connected, do you really know what the legal risks are?

If you are in business and someone is being negative about you, or making false statements on Facebook, it could ruin your reputation.  Linked-in, by its very nature facilitates employees in their engagement with clients which may in turn lead clients away from your business.  In these scenarios, you could have a legal action in misleading and deceptive conduct, or breach of confidence against the employee or a third party. Then, if you are an employee, you need to be aware that even posts made on Facebook outside of working hours can leave you open to legal actions, including dismissal. Just like internet usage policies, and confidentiality policies, there should be policies in your work place governing the use of social media. But the law is constantly developing in this area, so it is important to engage everyone in ongoing discussion.

Of course, privacy is a huge issue. Facebook’s privacy policy, and statement of rights states that if the user leaves the default setting as public, then the information is public, and open for everyone on the internet and in the world to see. In copyright terms, this means that you grant Facebook a non-exclusive, royalty free license to use the copyright in that material throughout the world.  Imagine your family photo being used to advertise dog-food in Sweden!  Take note that you can limit your privacy settings so that photos and information is shared with “friends of friends”; just “friends”, a specific group of friends, or even limited to “only me”.  This is particularly useful, (although not fool-proof) for aspiring photographers, artists, videographers, musicians and writers.

Unfortunately, however, even Facebook’s privacy settings are not immune to breaches of security, and Facebook disclaims any responsibility for breaches. Yes they do have encryption, but look at how easily security expert, Christian Heinrich in the Ben Grubb affair accessed photos without permission. Once people have access to your photos and information they can copy and paste them, and store them elsewhere. Think twice before you upload a photo, post a status, or other information. Once it’s out there, the ability to curtail any damage, and its further use by third parties may be very limited.

Facebook ads…cyber-stalkers…memorials…well that’s another story.