Beware: Your Social Media comments can have severe legal implications

Can your opinions and negative comments about individuals, companies and brands that you post on Twitter hurt you – legally speaking?

The short answer: yes. At a presentation at the Social Media Evening (@smevedbn) which was held at IT varsity recently, Social Media Law specialist, Emma Sadleir (@EmmaSadleir)  explained that whatever you publish on social media could land you in hot water.

Ms Sadleir explained that Social Media law is “the law that regulates any conversation that takes place over the internet, called User Generated Content (UGC)”. She went on to explain that the instant you publish information (including Tweets, Retweets and Facebook comments) you are subject to the same laws that would apply to the traditional media. In short, every person who has access to the internet and publishes content is considered a publisher.

Ms Sadlier provided real-world examples of people who made statements on social media, only to meet disastrous consequences. One such example is that of Justine Sacco, the PR executive who was fired over her infamous tweet: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

Ms Stucco published the tweet as she boarded a plane for a 11 hour flight, totally unaware that during her flight her tweet would go viral and cause an international outrage. Nontheless, she was subsequently fired from her job.

Freedom of Expression versus Defamation – where does one end and the other begin?

As far as freedom of expression on the internet is concerned, Ms Sadleir explained that while freedom of expression is a very important constitutional right, that right is not unlimited. “If your speech infringes on the rights of another, violates copyright or constitutes hate speech then your freedom is legally limited.” says Sadleir.

Are negative comments about your employer subject to defamation law?

Yes. Ms Sadlier provided examples of employees who posted negative comments about the companies they worked for on their personal profiles, resulting in dismissal.

In summary, Ms Sadlier compared social media to a billboard: just as you wouldn’t put certain types of comments next to your your name and picture on a billboard, do not do so on social media.