Could I Be Sued Because of My Business’s Social Media Account?

Article by Eleanor Hecks

The repercussions of using social media can be difficult to quantify since many interactions are virtual and often faceless — meaning you rarely see who you’re communicating or engaging with.

It’s easy to forget that you, and your business, can be held liable for events, posts and other things you say online. In 2018, Elon Musk got himself in hot water by tweeting about official Tesla events from his personal Twitter account, which drew the SEC’s ire.

While Musk’s mistake had more to do with the markets, it highlights the fact that you can get into legal trouble because of things that happen on social media. It begs the question: Can you be sued because of your business’s social media account? What kinds of things can you get in trouble for, exactly?

Exceedingly Common: A DMCA Hit

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA as many call it, was passed in 1998 and has an almost overbearing presence in today’s online world. Any entities selling or using an IP they do not own can be sued. However, the legislation has such a broad reach that this translates to many well-wishing actors becoming a target. It should be noted that the act does protect the copyrights of many properties — it is necessary.

Hosting a livestream or sharing a video on YouTube with copyright-protected music or media can land you in hot water. The offending video will be taken down, and all income generated from it can be seized. Sometimes, a preview or mention of the property will result in a strike, regardless of how minute the reference.

It’s a best practice to avoid all IPs you do not own or copyrighted materials. It’s not worth the risk.

Common: Plagiarism

Copying words, media or content from books, publications or other websites, regardless of intent, is considered plagiarism. When this happens, the party defending their work will send a cease and desist order through legal means. It provides the offender with enough time to remedy the problem, essentially removing the copied information. However, sometimes it may move rapidly toward legal action.

Most businesses get in hot water for not complying with a cease-and-desist order or continually plagiarizing works. It is something to be aware of and it can happen to any business, especially if employees or third parties are responsible for publishing and sharing content on social media.

Uncommon: Promotional Compliance

Believe it or not, there are stringent guidelines for hosting contests and promotional events, even on social media. Legal action could be taken against you if those rules are not followed.

Another major concern is that because social media is a relatively new medium, federal and state regulations are constantly evolving. You can fall foul of the law without knowing it if you haven’t kept up with current regulations. It is important to brush up on all guidelines and requirements before kickstarting any contests or promotions, especially across social media accounts.

Uncommon: Deceptive Communications

False advertising can and does happen on social media. However, a more common issue is the use of online platforms to discredit competitors and other brands. If published information can be proven untrue and financially harmful to another party, then a civil lawsuit can be brought before the courts.

Harmful communications can happen just about anywhere, including on websites, social media posts and review channels. This can also occur when a business suppresses valid reviews when a customer recognizes that their negative comments have been deleted or removed.

Uncommon: Leaking Confidential Information

If you or your business is entrusted with confidential and legally binding information, you can be held responsible for sharing or leaking the details. This includes conceptual or prototype products and services, new projects and potential acquisitions.

Leakers share information about developing or unreleased projects on social media all the time. It can lead to serious legal problems and not just demands to remove or take down the content. Litigation for these practices may not be common, but it does happen.

Establish Proper Content and Sharing Protocols

Whether you’re handling a business’s social media accounts yourself or you’ve hired a third party to do the work, you must recognize the repercussions of online activities and content sharing. Establish proper content and sharing protocols, and ensure you and your team follow the guidelines at all times.

Never share copyrighted content that you don’t own the IP to. Avoid copying or plagiarizing work in any shape or form, including text, print, visual and audio formats. Before hosting a contest or promotion, brush up on regulatory requirements. Never engage in deceptive practices. Finally, keep all confidential information to yourself or avoid sharing it with unauthorized parties.

By following these practices, you can avoid litigation even in today’s world.

Eleanor Hecks is editor-in-chief at Designerly Magazine. She was the creative director at a prominent digital marketing agency prior to becoming a full-time freelance designer. Eleanor lives in Philadelphia with her husband and pup, Bear.