Five ways to get sued for what you post online (And how to avoid them)

These days, it seems that everyone feels called to share every moment of their lives with the world.  We Instagram our breakfast, live-tweet a boring class, share at least four Reddit cat videos per day.  However, with this Internet freedom comes great responsibility.  Everything we say, do, even think is at the fingertips of nearly anyone around the world if we choose to share it online.  And sometimes those things we post can cause big trouble if we’re not careful.

With that in mind, I present my list of the five ways to get sued for what you post online, and more importantly, how to avoid them.

1. Make up a lie about that person/product/business you don’t like, and make sure everyone hears about it.
Woah, woah, woah — Slow down there, kid.  It’s one thing to dislike someone or something, it’s quite another to defame them.  See, sharing your opinion online is perfectly acceptable, but once you start lying about a person or company, it’s considered defamation and is grounds for legal action.
How to avoid this: Share your opinions online all you want, but make sure its clear that they are simply your opinions and not facts.  In general, it’s best to avoid any personal attacks and simply be aware that anyone can see what you post.

2. Quote someone else’s lie because that makes it OK.
WRONG.  Quoting a defamatory comment doesn’t make it any less defamatory.  If you share libelous material online that was originally posted by someone else, you can still be held accountable.
How to avoid this: Be wary of your “shares” and “retweets.”  It’s always best to fact-check before sharing information.

3. Use others’ pretty pictures to spice up your blog, Twitter, etc.
Copyright laws protect creative efforts like photos, videos, written work and more.  Therefore, you cannot simply re-use another’s work without their permission.
How to avoid this: Take advantage of Creative Commons!  It’s an awesome organization that allows people to share their work with the public through various types copyright licenses — so if you’re looking for outside photos, music or other works that are safe to display on your blog, this is a great place to check out.

4. Share sensitive company information online.
Some organizations and companies may have rules that do not allow employees to post certain company information online.  This may involve trade secrets or other sensitive information that your employer wants to keep private.
How to avoid this: Make sure you’re aware of your company’s social media and online policies, and stick to them!

5. If you endorse products online, don’t let your audience know that you’re being compensated for said endorsement (Don’t want them to get jealous!)
The Federal Trade Commission issued a guide for social media users who endorse or advertise certain products.  If you’re being paid or compensated in any way by a company for your endorsements, make sure your audience is aware of it.
How to avoid this: Always disclose any relationship that you have with companies or products that you endorse.  Better safe than sorry!

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2 Responses to Five ways to get sued for what you post online (And how to avoid them)

  1. Pingback: Oct. 16: Midterm & after Fall Break | SLU News Writing Fall 2013

  2. Pingback: Oct. 23: Media law & ethics | SLU News Writing Fall 2013

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