With more than 400 million people communicating on Facebook every day, social networking sites offer endless entertainment as well as viable business opportunities. However, despite their many advantages, these online networks have instigated a multitude of legal issues.
Disclosure of confidential information is a contentious issue in respect to social networks. Seemingly innocuous information can be divulged by employees on social media sites, leaking vital confidential information, such as trade secrets, across the world in a matter of minutes. In today's modern society with chat rooms and anonymous blogs, there has been an increase in widespread disclosure of trade information, often leading to a loss of intellectual property rights. To protect yourself from prosecution charges over technological slips of the tongue, ensure you are up to date with your company's legal policies and procedures regarding the disclosure of confidential or proprietary information.
Another legal issue which is currently rife on social networks concerns the use of unauthorised third party trademarks. If you include trademarks in your posts without permission from the manufacturer, you make yourself liable for charges of trademark infringement, dilution or unfair competition. Legal firms including Gillhams, DLA Piper and Linklaters can provide consultancy on this.However, some companies exercise 'fair use' policies, so that users can publicise a company's product in a blog, product review or status post. However, bear in mind that you may face prosecution if you use a company's trademarks to create a false impression of endorsement, affiliation or sponsorship of said company. Therefore, it is advisable to check the infringement reporting policies of the social networking sites you frequent. For example, Facebook has introduced policies whereby a trademark owner can prevent other parties from adopting their mark as a username or title of an unofficial fan page.
If you own a business with an online presence on social networking sites, you need to be vigilant in screening your posts, to ensure that security laws and regulations are not being violated. Although this is directed at company-managed websites, employees and executives also need to exercise caution when writing on forums, Twitter, Facebook or on any third party message boards, even if you use a pseudonym. It has been publicly unveiled that certain CEOs slandered their competitors online, in an effort to reduce their rivals' stock prices. These high profile incidents demonstrate that companies, as well as their executives and their employees, need to be extremely careful about what they post on social networking sites.
Furthermore, these legal issues are not isolated to written posts. The posting of photographs and videos, without proper releases from their owners, can result in the perpetrators being found guilty of infringing copyright and trademarks as well as disclosing confidential information. Moreover, the release of these images may violate the privacy and/or publicity rights of individuals featured in the images. Ironically, this issue is attracting increased media attention, sparking debates concerning the legal violations committed by the paparazzi and their affiliated magazines, which thrive upon unearthing and publishing celebrity secrets and scandals online and in print. Certain industries are more susceptible to these legal issues than others. For example, if you work in the healthcare industry, you must exercise extreme caution so as not to violate the specific privacy regulations of your patients and fellow staff. What you may think is an innocent photograph of a person could well be misconstrued as a violation of that individual's privacy and place you in the midst of a legal dispute.
Social networking sites grant individuals and companies alike the liberty to promote themselves online and interact with a worldwide audience. This can be a very beneficial process, so long as you exercise caution and pay close attention to the details of all your posts. If you follow these measures, you can avoid any legal issues concerning copyright infringement or privacy policies, leaving you free to enjoy and benefit from a plethora of innovative online resources.
The preceding is a guest post by Richard McMunn, a leading career and recruitment specialist for public sector careers. For the last 8 years How2become has helped numerous people prepare for and pass tough recruitment processes and assessment centres in order to secure their dream job. You can also connect with How2become on Google Plus.