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Legal Issues with Social Media

Datareportal reports that 4.7 billion people worldwide use social media, spending an average of two hours and 29 minutes on it a day. That's more than half the world. 

So, it's not surprising that social media law has emerged and includes criminal and civil aspects. Owing to the numerous legal issues with social media activities, many law firms now have internet and social media lawyers dedicated to counseling businesses and individuals on applying its laws on state and federal levels.

What is Social Media Law?

Social media law focuses on the legal issues associated with user-generated content. Some of its top concerns are the right to privacy, defamation, and intellectual property law covering trademarks, logos, and other copyrighted material.

Social media covers a lot of ground, and social networking is one key component. But it extends beyond that. It covers any technology allowing online communications. Facebook and Twitter immediately come to mind.

But there are also blogs, wikis, chat rooms, reviews, comments, and more. For example, a web page with a comments section is part of social media. In short, any website that involves interaction is social media.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) has strict policies that govern social media use. You can read more about the policies and standards here.

Moreover, numerous state, federal, and foreign statutes apply to social media law. You can view some of the more critical laws here.

Top Legal Issues with Social Media

Some of the top issues are:

  1. Copyright Infringement
  2. Defamation
  3. Privacy and Confidentiality
  4. Misleading Information
  5. Business Contracts

Let's look closer at each of those potential legal concerns.

Copyright Infringement

It's easy to cut and paste content from sites on the internet. But using content from another site can result in criminal and civil liability.

Intellectual property laws govern the use of trademarks and copyrights. Copyright relates to the authorship of original works like art, books, music, and more.

Consequently, it's essential to have policies governing your business' online content publication. You should have someone review posts and messages for legal compliance before publication. When using third-party content, you should attribute the content to that party to avoid any copy infringement. A social media lawyer can help draft appropriate guidelines.


First Amendment rights do not protect defamatory statements. Such statements typically fall under two categories:

    1. Libel: Tangible, written statements
    2. Slander: Spoken words or gestures

The criteria for either is that the statement was objectively false, seen or heard by a third party, and caused financial injury. The comment is also unprivileged by law.

It's always best to show caution when commenting about a third party. Social media platforms make those comments immediately viewable by millions of people and can quickly create a legal issue for you. Note that sharing or liking another person or business' defamatory comment can present a legal issue for you. And if you make an ill-advised comment while at work, you potentially put yourself and your employer at risk.

Two recent Pennsylvania employment termination cases give this same advice to adult social media users. In both cases, courts upheld terminations for employees’ mean-spirited off-duty social media comments.

Privacy & Confidentiality

Privacy laws govern the collection, use, disclosure, and storage of personal information. Moreover, you must inform individuals that you are collecting such information. And you cannot disclose that information unless it's for specific purposes. It's common to see businesses to require a signed agreement to use your NIL (Name, Image, and Likeness) in any social media content produced by the employer.

Europe implemented the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2018. It spelled out rules to guarantee the protection of personal data. The United States has no such law, however, the California Online Privacy Protection Act (OPPA) approved legislation covering online privacy. So, if you're conducting business in the state, it's necessary to comply with its requirements.

Any personal data collected must be stored securely. As a result, data breach lawsuits have become commonplace, impacting businesses both large and small. For example, Equifax suffered a data breach exposing the personal information of 147 million people. The settlement included up to $425 million distributed to those affected.

Misleading Claims

It's best to substantiate any claims made on social media to avoid legal issues. Consumer protection laws prohibit businesses from making false, deceptive, and misleading claims about products or services.

The same goes for reviews of a company or service. It's common practice for companies to capture reviews through social media channels. But, of course, those reviews need to be legitimate and not falsified or misleading. The same holds for endorsements. Google and other search engines are getting better daily at identifying fake reviews, and will not hesitate to penalize company websites.

Business Contracts

Businesses of all sizes execute contracts, including non-disclosure agreements, confidentiality agreements, and non-compete agreements. Interestingly, On January 5, 2023, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) proposed a rule to ban non-compete clauses. This has since been approved and has retroactively negated many of these clauses. That being said, social media communications can set the stage for breaches of the formerly stated contracts.

For example, employees must be aware of business contracts with non-disclosure agreements. Imparting essential knowledge detailed in such agreements can lead to a lawsuit. Here's another example. Let's say you recently hired an employee. A recently hired employee has a non-compete agreement from their former employer preventing him from contacting former clients. The employee then changes his status on LinkedIn, which sends out an update to clients, including some former clients. In the past, this scenario could open the door for a suit claiming a breach of contract against the former employee.

Tips to Avoid Legal Issues with Social Media

Even though social media focuses on sharing information and free expression, it's not without legal risks for businesses and individuals.

Here are some things you can do to mitigate your risks of legal action as a business owner:

  1. Social Media Policy: Work with an employment or business lawyer to create a policy document covering all aspects of social media communications. It's essential to document how employees use social media in the workplace and what they can say.
  2. Permissions for Licensed Content: Ensure you get explicit consent to use copyrighted materials such as images.
  3. Monitor Content: Establish standards for publishing content. Then monitor and moderate content and posts. If something seems inappropriate, remove it.
  4. Train Employees: Keep your employees and subsequently your handbooks and policies updated with the latest social media laws and regulations.

As an employee, you must understand that any comments you make on social media during the workday can impact your business. The same holds for you outside business hours. Your comments on social media can land you in hot water.

Talk to a employment or business lawyer If You're Facing a Legal Issues with social media

Social media and the laws governing it can substantially impact a business and its employees. Don't hesitate to contact us if you are in need of guidance.

Our law firm has offices covering Bucks and Montgomery Counties in Pennsylvania We have attorneys experienced in intellectual property law, business law, and employment law. We also have top litigation attorneys to support you with any lawsuit concerns, either presenting or defending a suit.

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