The Law and Social Media

Music, books, and newspapers aren’t the only industries feeling the impact of Social Media.

It seems the law profession is feeling the squeeze too.

An article in the Toronto Star recently tried to create a flap about the dangers of making Comments on Social Media networks, and granted, part of their argument has merit, but as long as you understand at least the basics of defamation and libel law, which isn’t as complicated as lawyers want you to believe, don’t be intimidated to use Social Media or speak with reporters.

Unscrupulous attorneys try to scare us into using their services.

The reality today though is that the court of public opinion, when managed effectively through Blogs and Tweets, often has a very strong influence on people in, and even outside your network.

When you can safely Blog about them for a fraction of the cost and get the same, or better results, why would you deal with the risk and high cost of suing someone?

It’s still a good idea to consult a lawyer in some situations, especially when your words hold the potential to harm someone. In situations like this, approach law professionals for specific advice about how to communicate through Social Media without defaming anyone, but be wary if they try to talk you instead into launching an expensive lawsuit.

Libel and defamation is loosely defined as distributing “FALSE” information.

The law applies the same way regardless of whether it is distributed via Twitter or television. Defamation is defamation no matter what medium.

The secret is to Blog and Tweet information you can prove to be true.

No one can successfully sue you for telling the truth. They might try, it’s called a Slap Suite, which is used to intimidate, but for the most part as long as you know the law in your region and the region where the company you are Blogging or Tweeting about does business, it often makes better financial sense to simply tell your “true” story in your Social Network than it does to go through the long and expensive process of a court case.

Even better, tell your story to a journalist too!

Today, when a company sees truthful information about them online that paints then in a bad light, they have two options. Either change how they do business, or quit doing business.

Lawyers suggest that companies, even unscrupulous companies, have a third option, and that is to sue someone, or at the very least get an injunction to gag the information. A lawsuit might have been a good option yesterday, but more and more every day, society is getting smarter and better connected. This outdated way of intimidation through the courts, which is practiced only by wealthy people or companies with deep pockets, is just another old school strategy dropping by the wayside.

Suing should be your “last” resort. It shouldn’t be your first course of action.

Lawyer also too often recommend to their clients to never, even if they caused a crisis or accident, ever say you’re sorry. Lawyers claim it sends a message that you could be guilty. Well that advice is misguided. It’s such an outdated philosophy that many states and provinces enacted what is referred to as the “Apology Act,” which states that just because you said “Sorry,” doesn’t mean you are guilty. It just means you are being human and feel the victim’s pain. Nothing more. Nothing less.

If you’ve followed my Blog, or have attended my presentations or training sessions you know that in almost all cases it is better to immediately apologize when you or your company have done something to cause people anguish. It lets victims know you feel their pain. Most lawyers often don’t want you to say you’re sorry, but history indicates it is best to empathize with people, because in the long run, they will regard you in a less vindictive way. Also let them know what you are doing to remedy the situation, and what you are doing to ensure a similar tragedy will never happen again. In some cases, it could save your company millions, and even save your career.

Again, the secret is to know how to communicate effectively. The article stated that one of the problems with Social Media is its immediacy. Ironically though, immediacy is also what makes it so effective. The article refers to immediacy in the sense that people sometimes Blog or Tweet when they are upset, Well, that isn’t a problem with Social Media – it’s a problem with the person’s style of communication. When you’re upset, it’s always good advice to pause before you hit the SEND button, but even more importantly, learn the emotional and legal rules of communication.

I’ve said many times, “It is not just what you say, but how you say it.

This advice applies to Social Media, as well as to a conversation with a journalist, or to an audience during a presentation.

According to this article, lawyers would like you to believe it is too risky to say anything disparaging about anyone online, but the reality is that there is a right and a wrong way to communicate negative information about a person or a company. The law in most regions says you cannot do it with malicious intent to harm their reputation and impact their ability to generate income. You can however report the facts, even if it criticizes or harms someones reputation. Don’t embellish or draw unfair conclusions. Just report the facts, and make sure you have proof.

The truth is a very powerful tool. Use it and don’t let anyone, including lawyers, intimidate you from speaking the truth.

When it comes to communication, any type of communication, there is a right and wrong way to do it.

The best way to learn is through training.

Why TRANSPARENCY is important & How to APOLOGISE in 2011

Share this Article with Your Friends & Colleagues
This entry was posted in News and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.