There are more than 4 million Twitter accounts and more than 30 million Facebook accounts. Social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn, are no longer just a place for kids to post pictures and share the latest gossip with their friends. Adults are beginning to use the sites for everything from planning high school reunions to marketing their businesses. Even companies like Comcast are getting in on the action by having employees respond to user complaints on Twitter. However, as the use of social media sites increases, so does the need for people to understand the legal issues that can arise from their use. The following are just a few of the ways you can get into trouble when venturing online.
The first way you can get into trouble online is by endangering your physical safety. In California, “buyers” held up a couple selling sweatshirts through a Craigslist ad. The transaction was to take place in a semi-deserted parking lot; instead, the “buyers” took the couple’s merchandise and their cash. The moral of the story: if at all possible, meet the other party at a public place if using a site to buy or sell merchandise on Craigslist and always be aware of your surroundings.
Job Seekers Beware
The second way you can get in trouble online is by hurting your employment chances. Just as individuals are getting more familiar with online sites, so are employers. By posting information online, a jobseeker may be asking to not be hired. At the age of 20, it may seem fun to post pictures of yourself in a compromised position at Mardi Gras or your best friend’s bachelorette party. At 26, when applying for a job, a prospective employer may not find those pictures so amusing. The moral of the story: companies will judge you by what you have posted online, whether it is your stellar grades or pictures of you at an all-night kegger.
Truth or Fiction?
The third way you can get in trouble online is by good old-fashioned lying. In late July, the media first reported a widely publicized case about a person suing a Twitter user over a post (or “tweet”). In Chicago, a renter complained via the service that her apartment was moldy; the landlord filed suit for damages claiming the tweet was defamatory. (It remains to be seen whether the apartment was moldy or whether the tweet was a lie, and thus defamatory, as the case has not gone to court yet.) The moral of the story: if you are posting bad things about a company or person, make sure they are true.
Social networking is fun and exciting. Its use can improve your life, increase the number of friends you have, and bring you more business if used correctly. It can also lead to problems far into the future. Be smart about what you post and if you have any questions about a post: don’t do it until you check with someone familiar with online law!