Back-To-School: Why Business Leaders Are Taking Social Media Law Courses

SMI AwareBlog

This fall, traditional college-age 20-somethings aren’t the only students heading back to the classroom. Did you know that academic institutions of higher education are offering social media law courses for professionals?

And legal professionals aren’t the only ones finding it necessary to be savvy in matters of social media. The courses are being offered to meet growing demand from insurance agents, business owners, operators, and forward thinking leaders in management across industries who realize the need to stay ahead of legal liability issues around social media use. Organizations with leadership that isn’t aware of potential issues and setting good policies to follow social media law are leaving themselves vulnerable to litigation, costly legal judgements, and financial loss and reputation damage that could be catastrophic.

You would think this would be intuitive, at this point. Social media use is pervasive, and shows no sign of slowing. Just as individuals are using it to explore the world in new ways, so to are business leaders using social channels for a variety of reasons.

By now, we’ve all heard the stories about individuals that made an ill-advised post on social media, and lost their job over it. Organizations are not immune from the same risks, but the risk is arguably on a greater scale. Business leaders are finding that having social media channels opens them up to potential problems.

It seemed like only recently, the only issues around professional social media use were limited to employee use and access at the office. In those cases, management could block use of social media websites or set policies for individuals to follow, and that would solve the problem. But it’s not so simple anymore. Businesses are using the channels professionally for branding, marketing, and to connect. What are the most common uses of social media for business leadership?

Three Of The Most Common Ways Business Uses Social Media

  1. To recruit and research job candidates.

  2. To maintain an online presence as part of their marketing strategies.

  3. To communicate with their audience.

Just as individuals have found that personal social media use is no longer private, now business leaders are learning that they must take steps to protect their organization from liability around use of social media in these three areas. What they say online can be held against them, and employees must be versed in proper usage as well.

In each of the three uses of social media listed above, organizations can be held liable for violation of social media law and regulations. Not knowing the law is no defense.

For example, there are regulations and social media law around how HR departments may use social media to screen and monitor employees. The Fair Credit Reporting Act sets strict standards for pre-employment screening, and any investigation or reporting that violates those standards leaves business owners liable and open to lawsuits. Many HR professionals may not have the knowledge they need to product a legally safe screening.

In addition, use of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other social sites to build the brand of an organization or for marketing purposes opens business users up to the same legal requirements to protect copyright and intellectual property as any marketing organization.

If a business is using social media to connect with an audience, they must also take care to protect privacy and guard against fraud or defamation. And those are just a few examples.

Social Media Law Covers Issues Including:

  • Security

  • Copyright and trademark issues

  • Liability

  • Defamation

  • Employee use at work

  • Fraud

  • Privacy

  • The use of social media evidence in litigation

Consider what happened with Chipotle in 2016. A manager at the company asked an employee to remove Twitter posts that criticized the brand. When the employee refused, he was fired. But in court, the firing was overturned because it violated federal labor laws. The employee had to be rehired and compensated.

Would your business leadership know how to handle a similar situation?

But that’s only a single example among many. Consider what can happen when organizations leave themselves open to litigation regarding discrimination. That’s just what happened in 2009, when an employee of the Library of Congress claimed that his boss harassed him regarding his sexual orientation after finding that the employee had “liked” a Facebook page supporting gay parenting.

As experts in social media law, we support and encourage the business community as they take steps to get educated about the legal issues around social media use.

We also recommend that you don’t try to go it alone. It’s not fair to leave an HR person, insurance agent, or manager on their own to chart a course in this complicated field. We can help you with credible social media evidence and information on social media law.

So get educated. And to learn more, please be sure to reach out to us.