Most of us are spending more of our time online, including interacting with others via social media. Unfortunately, the ease and access that make social media convenient also leaves you open to significant risks.
Unlike most technology, this is one area where experience doesn’t protect you. Regular users of social media have more information “out there.” And the more comfortable people are with posting what’s on their minds, the easier it is to be lulled into a false sense of security. It only takes a moment to post something you regret or to accidentally publicize information meant to be private.
One click away from risk
While most of these posts lead no further than embarrassment, in some cases they can lead to lawsuits and costly settlements or judgments. For example, a woman forwarded an email about a mutual acquaintance’s embarrassing personal issue and mentioned it in a post. The story turned out not to be true and the acquaintance sued her for libel and defamation. Although the lawsuit was eventually dropped, the poster incurred $75,000 in legal fees.
Other trends include lawsuits stemming from online reviews of a business or service that were accused of being defamatory, or claims of alleged slander arising from online political campaigns.
To help you protect yourself and your family, consider adopting these five best practices regarding social media:
- Periodically review your privacy settings and filters. Most social media sites make it easy to limit certain kinds of information to different “audiences” within your connections, as well as define what’s visible to the public. Confirm that your general site updates don’t expose any of your personal information, and confirm that new connections you’ve added are in the appropriate lists for family, colleagues, etc.
- Use the right forum for the right information. As a rule, maintain business connections on professional networking sites and reserve other networks for family and friends. Keeping different types of connections in different social media silos helps you avoid many of the most common social media blunders.
- Institute a personal “think twice before posting” policy. Online reviews, message boards and online feedback forums are potential sources of defamation lawsuits. What if a comment made in haste or anger went viral? It’s good practice to pause before uploading your opinions and other content. Consider whether the information you’re about to share is not only suitable for those in your network, but also for each of their extended networks. Ensure that it can’t be misinterpreted or cause other misunderstandings among the people who could see it.
- Talk to your kids. Minors often don’t appreciate the reach of social media or how damaging seemingly innocuous information can be in the wrong hands. Basic details of the family’s daily schedules or travel plans could expose you to theft or even kidnapping. Additionally, accusations of cyber-bullying have become a source of lawsuits. Discus with your family what kinds of posts are and aren’t appropriate. It’s also appropriate to monitor social media activity (with their knowledge) to ensure they are adhering to the guidelines.
- Establish rules for staff. A seemingly innocent photo post by your children’s caregiver having lunch at the zoo publicizes their exact location, that your children are with them, and that potentially no one is in your home. To ensure that you’re the one making the call on what personal information is released on social media, set out rules for how employees can use social media on the job (ideally, not at all) and make that a part of their employment contract.