Legal Issues in Social Media and How to Avoid Them

On Wednesday, August 22, DJA attended an event hosted by the California Gold Coast PRSA Chapter entitled “Social Media Legal Problems.” The presentation was given by Glenn Dickinson, a lawyer who specializes in trademark, copyright, competitive business, and Internet law areas at the business law firm LightGabler.

There were many takeaways from the presentation: 

  • Companies and organizations should practice entering social media as a conversation, and strive for two-way engagement rather than a one-way dialogue. By enhancing the level of interactivity amongst followers, a higher level of both credibility and trust is reached, which can often limit the amount of discrepancies overall. Dickinson shared that only 20% of Chief Marketing Officers use social networks to engage and collaborate with customers. It is apparent that those who do have much stronger platforms.
  • “Defamation is a problem because of the fast stream of communication that social media brings.” It is important to take caution when posting statements about others online in order to avoid any elements of defamation, and to only post what you know is true and can be proved, regardless of where/what platform you are posting it on. 
  • If you use photos taken of people in public places for commercial purposes without informed consent, you violate the right of publicity protected by CA Civil Code § 3344. You can post such photos on your own social media, as many events have precautionary signs around regarding the possibility of it, however you cannot use these photos to advertise, market, etc. 
  • “Countering negative publicity with a negative response almost always fails, even if you’re right.” Essentially, this is just fueling the flame even more and audiences will most often be turned away by such actions. It has been proven that those organizations who handle the negative publicity with grace and eloquence are those who are not harmed by it, and instead show depth to their values and communication skills. 
  • Infringement is very common among modern social media, most especially with picture usage. You can avoid it by utilizing commercial use/public domain image libraries, that have 100s of 1000s of images for free use. Some of our favorite libraries are Unsplash, Pixabay and Pexels. Here’s a list of over 90 more, many of which do not require subsciption or sign-ups, and are also free: 
  • “Social media is spontaneous, interactive, and time-sensitive, and you must always be ready to move/change/adjust accordingly when legal problems arise.” If an organization/business allows negative legal matters to just sit rather than taking some sort of cautionary action, they are simply leaving the space for the matters to worsen as time passes. They must be able to react in a professional matter and should have a plan already in place if possible.