Social Media Impacts Every Legal Area

Social Media and the Law

What you post on social media can make a huge difference in your cases, both personally and privately.

Facebook has over 1.86 billion monthly active users. By 2018, 169.2 million of those users will be from the United States. LinkedIn has 467 million users, 128 million from the United States. This includes representatives of all Fortune 500 companies. Snapchat reaches 41% of all 18-34 American users and YouTube serves up over 4 billion views of videos, every single day. The numbers are extraordinary and the type of data people share can have a substantial impact on their lives, including their interactions with the legal system. There is no area of law not impacted by social media use. Three areas where we frequently see social media use implications for our clients are: Family, employment, and business.

Family Law

Practically from day one, social media began to have an impact on family law cases, especially divorce, support, and custody. While people may “unfriend” their soon to be ex-spouses, they often do not unfriend mutual friends. In addition, children who are at least 13 years of age are often on Facebook and other sites. They, of course, will be friends with both parents. Courts frequently admit evidence involving conduct which is contrary to the claims of the parties. Images of parents drinking and/or partying can have an impact on child custody, especially if the children are in the pictures. Discussions about money can greatly impact alimony and support. Posts that may not be relevant to the case but anger ex-spouses can lead to problems with negotiations. Judges are swayed by social media content. It is important to know what areas to avoid when you are in the middle of a family law case.

Employment Law

It is easy to understand why an employer might terminate an employee who writes something negative about their company on social media. However, while it is often permissible to do so, there are times when firing an employer based on a post will violate the law and leave a company open to an expensive claim. It is important to avoid a knee jerk reaction and to consult with a lawyer about whether the content is protected, prior to making a termination decision. In addition, if one employee engages in inappropriate behavior towards another online, you may have an obligation to act. Having an appropriate social media policy can go a long way to spelling out what employees may and may not post related to your business. These social media policies must be written correctly. Over the years, many policies have been thrown out for being overbroad. If you don’t have a policy it may be time to get one. If you do, be certain to review it to make certain it is acceptable under current law.

Business Law

Different businesses have different privacy requirements and laws they must follow. Medical staff posting images of patients or identifiable information leave medical facilities open to HIPAA fines and privacy lawsuits. Publicly held companies can have problems if they share inappropriate content deemed to be seeking to impact stock prices. Failing to respond to angry customers may not lead to legal problems, but they can certainly lead to public relations disasters. Knowing what your business may and may not post, along with having an appropriate social media policy, is a critical part of protecting your business from both legal and PR nightmares.

Conclusion

The key thing to remember is that social media can impact both your private and business life. Making certain that you understand what you should and should not post online is key for protecting yourself and your business. If you have questions about how social media can impact you or your business, contact Hoffmeyer & Semmelman to learn more.