There was an article in the newspapers not so many weeks ago about how social media had led to an increase in the number of libel actions being brought in the UK.
Tales proliferate about celebrities who have retweeted something they really shouldn’t have and found themselves having to pay damages for defamation.
The stories serve as a reminder that the arrival of new technology doesn’t mean the old rules go out the window. For those setting up a social media profile there are responsibilities as well as opportunities.
All the same, it’s important that businesses don’t let stories about scurrilous status updates scare them off.
Yes, there are legal issues that companies need to consider if they’re looking to set up on sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn. But in actual fact many of the rules that govern social media are similar to those that companies have had to abide by for decades.
It is telling that the judiciary have, for the most part, steered clear of passing new legislation in direct response to digital platforms. Most judges argue that existing laws are more than adequate for policing social media, there just needs to be a bit more debate about how they should be applied.
The laws of copyright, confidentiality and, yes, defamation need to be borne in mind when companies operate online. Traditional issues such as discrimination or bullying in the workplace also apply just as much over the internet as they do in the office itself.
Businesses should also be aware that on certain occasions they could be held liable for what a member of staff has posted online. This is why it’s important for firms to draft a social media policy – setting out exactly what is expected of employees – if they haven’t already done so.
So, in summary, think before you click and make sure you’ve taken necessary precautions, but don’t let a couple of cases colour your impression of social media.