The disclosure of confidential information is widely considered to be the biggest risk of using social media. In fact, our research into social media and the law detailed how 3 out of 5 companies are not confident that sensitive or confidential information is protected on social platforms. But UK businesses have good reason to be apprehensive, as you will learn from our 3 reasons to think before you retweet:
Defamation: “the act of making untrue statements about another which damages his/her reputation.”1
Individuals rarely take the time to wonder whether the information that they are sharing online is anything other than hearsay. The trouble is that you can rapidly find yourself in deep waters if you do not take the time to verify the source, particularly if personal information is disclosed. Naming and shaming is not what social media was created for.
Just look at what happened to Lord McAlpine on Twitter. After being falsely branded a paedophile he was able to legally pursue literally thousands of Twitter users that had retweeted the accusation, including the wife of the Commons speaker, Sally Bercow. Although he has already sought and been awarded damages totaling hundreds of thousands of pounds, he has also decided to drop hundreds of lawsuits if those that retweeted false accusations will make a donation to Children In Need.
Copyright: “the exclusive right of the author or creator of a literary or artistic property (such as a book, movie or musical composition) to print, copy, sell, license, distribute, transform to another medium, translate, record or perform or otherwise use (or not use) and to give it to another by will.”2
Studies have shown that social media users are more likely to engage with images and videos as opposed to content that is simply text. If something is funny, exciting or newsworthy then the temptation to share it is always there. But at what point do you think to yourself, can I actually send this? Most people never do and yet there are copyright laws in place which supposedly protect the content from being modified or distributed.
Remember the helicopter crash near Vauxhall in January of this year? Many of us found out about it through social media channels where eyewitnesses were sharing updates and images with their networks. Traditional media coverage of the incident used content which was predominantly sourced from Twitter, however, this should not have been the case. Copyright of all original works, including eyewitness photos, remains with the user that captured or created the original.
Final judgment: “the written determination of a lawsuit by the judge who presided at trial (or heard a successful motion to dismiss or a stipulation for judgment), which renders rulings on all issues and completes the case unless it is appealed to a higher court.”3
Sometimes it can be difficult to read between the lines when it comes to understanding the law, particularly when it involves an already emotive topic. Social media has a tendency to be used as a form of personal expression, as well as having a communal sense of strength in numbers, and this is where people can lose sight of themselves.
One of the UK’s most senior judges has recently ruled in favour of banning the publication of any information, including photos, pertaining to the new identities and whereabouts of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson who were sentenced for the murder of James Bulger in 1993. Dean Liddle and Neil Harkins narrowly escaped nine months in jail after sharing these photos on Twitter and Facebook, but should anyone else want to follow in their footsteps then they are more likely to receive a two year sentence than a warning!
There are a number of laws that could affect a simple retweet, not only pertaining to defamation, copyright and breach of a court ruling, but also harassment, data protection and the right to privacy. When used in marketing it is also important to be aware that the ASA regulations, the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and the Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008 can impact a campaign.
To be better prepared in case of repercussions we have prepared a free best practice guide to social media and the law which will educate and raise awareness of the legislation that affects us all.