The Small-Business Owner's Guide to Advertising Injury

Chapter 5: Social Media Liabilities: Your Employees, Fans, & Enemies
Part 1: Can You Be Held Accountable for What Others Say on Social Media?

Consider this scenario: you let an employee operate your business's social media account. But at some point during the day, someone comments on the company's status, saying your business doesn't hold a candle to your competitor.

In a rush to defend your business's honor, your employee dashes off a response to the comment that, upon reflection, could be construed as libelous. The disparaging remarks are spread all over Facebook, and Buzzfeed even compiles a list of screenshots of the most incriminating posts. By the end of the day, your company is caught up in a viral, libelous scandal.

The worst part is that these public mistakes happen all too often, thanks to the accessibility of social networks. At best, your company's reputation could suffer from the faux pas. At worst, the competitor could sue your business for libel.

The important thing to keep in mind is that you could be held liable for whatever happens on your business's social media account. This includes…

  • Libelous posts written by your employees.
  • False offers / inflammatory remarks posted by your former employees under your business's account.
  • Content that hackers post through your account (such as false claims about sales, promotions, or other offerings).
  • User-generated content (i.e., defamatory or obscene comments and posts).

You must be careful about what other users post on your business's social media profile or in the comments section of your blog. In some cases, people could bring suits and subpoenas against your business to pursue the identity of defamatory commenters.

To avoid this potentially sticky legal situation, be sure to monitor, block, and remove defamatory or obscene comments and posts as they occur.

Also, if a fan or follower posts trademarked content to your company's page, your business could be held responsible for the trademark violation if that person didn't have consent to use it. Be sure to remove such posts in order to demonstrate a good-faith effort to prevent and manage trademark infringement.

Next: Part 2: Personal Accounts and Social Media Lawsuits

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