17 Ways Your Business Can Get In Legal Trouble on Social Media

Social media has become a key component in marketing plans for many companies. It offers a way to advertise products and services, conduct promotions, engage with customers, and tell a brand’s story. Social media posts allow for interaction with a broad range of potential customers. Facebook had over 2.32 billion active users at the end of 2018 and there are over 3.3 billion global mobile social media users.

While the majority of businesses extensively use social media, they may not always know about the business laws they must abide by when using these platforms. When companies develop their social media marketing strategies, it’s important for them to be aware of how to legally interact online. Review these 17 ways businesses can get into legal trouble on social media so your company can avoid the bad press and expense of a lawsuit.

1.  Using Music/Photos/Videos Without Permission

Companies must be cognizant of where they obtain the media they use, including music, images, quotes, or other content. Posting someone else’s intellectual or creative content without permission may violate copyright or trademark laws.

2.  Claiming Music/Photos/Videos As Your Own

When you repost music, photos, or videos on your company’s social media accounts and don’t reference the original creator, you’re essentially claiming it as your own work. The original creator may sue you for copyright infringement since you don’t have permission to use their work and didn’t provide credit.

3.  Getting People’s Faces In Your Photos or Videos

If you take your own photos and videos to post on social media, it’s still important to be careful about what you publish. It’s illegal to post images or videos of people’s faces without their permission. Before posting this content, obtain written consent from anyone who appears in your content or legal action may be taken against you.

4.  Not Reposting User-Generated Content Correctly

If you have a loyal online fanbase that posts about your products, company, or services, you may want to repost their content as a marketing strategy. However, you must properly attribute where your content came from and obtain permission from the user before reposting. If you repost user-generated content without credit, the user may take legal action against you.

5.  Not Complying With Sweepstakes/Contest Rules and Regulations

If you plan to host a contest, sweepstakes, or drawing on your social media account to increase your following or engagement, pay attention to corresponding legislation. The specific laws you must follow when hosting a contest may vary by state, industry, and social media platform. Do your research first to ensure you’re complying with legal regulations.

6.  Regulated Industries Posting Without Legal Team Review

If your business is in a regulated industry, such as healthcare or financial services, it’s crucial to review and adhere to industry legislation pertaining to public communication. Have your legal team review each post before it’s published to ensure what you’re saying is true, legal, and compliant.

7.  Defamation/Harassment

Defamation is defined as a “false and unprivileged statement of fact that is harmful to someone’s reputation.” If your company uses social media platforms to spread lies about competitors, it’s illegal and your company may get sued.

Sexual harassment isn’t the only type of illegal harassment. If your company is seen as implementing aggressive pressure or attempting to intimidate somebody, that’s harassment. If you consistently post aggressive and negative comments online toward other businesses or followers, you may be accused of harassing them.

8.  Disclosing Information About Intellectual Property

If your company has employees who are responsible for social media, it’s important to have open lines of communication about what’s to be kept private and what can go public. If you’re developing new products or have other intellectual property that’s not ready for the public, ensure your employees don’t disclose information online that’s meant to be kept private.

9.  Misleading Conduct

You’re engaging in misleading conduct if you make promises about your product, service, or company that aren’t true. Although social media offers a more conversational and friendly tone, you can still be sued for misleading conduct if you embellish or lie about what you have to offer.

You hold the liability for your product and if it can’t deliver on the claims you made, consumers can pursue legal action against you. While you may be able to settle out of court, it’s important for your company’s reputation to only make truthful claims.

10.  Disregarding Privacy and Confidentiality

When it comes to social media, consent and permission is key. If you post information about your customers or employees without their consent, you’re breaking the law. Posting photos or videos of people without getting permission is also violating their privacy and confidentiality.

11.  Not Complying With Advertising Standards

Even if you’re just creating your company’s profile or responding to a social media follower’s comment, you must comply with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) advertising standards for your industry.

The information you provide on social media is considered advertising so you must disclose that you’re posting an ad. Advertising standards also prohibit you from including strong language, nudity, violence, false claims, or sexually natured content in your ads.

12.  Failure To Disclose Influencer Marketing Campaigns

FTC social media guidelines also require you to disclose when you’re engaging in influencer marketing campaigns. If you make an agreement with an influencer, affiliate, or ambassador to endorse your product, brand, or service, be sure the influencer properly disclosed on the ad that it’s a marketing campaign. If this isn’t properly disclosed, your company or the influencer may face legal consequences and the ad may be taken down immediately.

13.  Improper Formatting of Sponsored Posts

If you’re creating a sponsored post, you’re also responsible for following the FTC’s guidelines on disclosing your advertisement. In some cases, simply stating that you’re posting an ad isn’t enough. You may also be required to include legal disclosures in your post so you meet proper formatting requirements. Failure to meet these requirements may lead to legal issues.

14.  Assuming Your Social Media Marketer Knows Legal

If you’re gathering a social media team or assigning social media marketing duties to an employee, ask about their knowledge of legal issues. They may need additional training on the legalities involved in businesses and social media to ensure your company stays out of trouble. Dedicate the time and money to provide continuing education on these matters since laws can change and evolve over time.

15.  Faking Testimonials

It’s against the law to publish fake testimonials on social media or other advertising sources. The extent of this law and the repercussions for getting caught posting fake testimonials varies by state. Not only does a testimonial need to be organic and true, you must also request permission from the source to post it on your social media.

16.  Not Having an Internal Social Media Policy

Whether you have a social media team, you post all your content yourself, or you have a dedicated employee, it’s important to have an internal social media policy. Setting standards and guidelines for every post that each employee must follow ensures your posts adhere to state and federal laws. When you develop a clear and thorough internal social media policy that’s available to all employees, it’s more likely that you won’t encounter legal problems.

17.  Making Employees Promote the Company On Their Personal Social Media Pages

It’s illegal to force your employees to promote your company on their personal social media pages. You can make your company’s online content available for sharing and give your employees the option of mentioning your company on their personal social media, but you cannot make it a requirement.

Although most of these crimes aren’t considered felonies or even misdemeanors, it’s still important to follow the legal guidelines when posting on social media. You may not be arrested for posting false testimonies or not giving credit for a photo, but it’s a good business practice to follow these regulations.

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