Legal Implications of Social Media: Attribution

Ian Lurie

Everyone else can debate the merits, the ROI etc. until they’re blue in the face. The truth is, social media or whatever you call it is a great tool. But there are considerable legal implications. Don’t let the implications stop you. Do be mindful:
Social media muddies attribution: It’s increasingly hard to judge just who’s responsible for the spread of this defamatory statement or that illicit video.
Here’s an example. Say you create a corporate Twitter account. You accumulate 10,000 followers, and you follow most of them back.
Then someone posts “. @youraccount My apartment is full of mold.”
Because of that little period, everyone who follows you and your brand sees the post. The disgruntled renter had only 10 followers. So her initial tweet wouldn’t have caused her landlord any troubles. But she just expanded her audience by 1000x by piggy-backing on your account.
Maybe nothing happens. Or maybe an angry landlord sues the twitterer, and their attorneys decide to pull you in, as well. After all, you’re a nice, deep-pocketed target whereas the renter is a hapless private citizen.
Not as unlikely as you might think. And while you might win, the average judge understands Twitter about as well as you understand the Uniform Commercial Code. They may or may not understand you’re not at fault. So it’s a crap shoot.
The fix: There isn’t one, I’m afraid. Just keep an eye on your followers and be ready to block/ban anyone who gets out of control. Or let the chips fall where they may (my strategy) and assume no one’s life is so utterly devoid of value that they’ll sue you for being a defamation vector.
What do you think? Am I just being a FUDmonger? Or is there something to this?

Poorly-held secret: I went to (and graduated from) law school. I don’t often use my education (I graduated with a B- average), but with organizations jumping on the social media bandwagon, I’ve dusted off my Black’s Law Dictionary and put on my attorney cap for a few minutes. However, none of this is advice. There’s a reason I graduated and went straight into marketing. Read this post to prompt discussion, not to design your company policy.

Ian Lurie
CEO & Founder

Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent and the EVP of Marketing Services at Clearlink. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). He's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Follow him on Twitter at portentint, and on LinkedIn at

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  1. In addition, the people tasked with creating the content, setting up accounts, and linking everything together in a nice package, are not the ones who are going to be sued. The managers and higher-ups may not understand the legal implications of social media content… it’s kind of the wild west out there, which is a cool thing until you meet up with someone with a quicker draw than you.

  2. I don’t believe you have that period thing right.
    Anyone can say something bad about a company or person same as always, but it won’t hijack your twitter feed, unless they are searching on your name, like anywhere else.
    The person with 10 followers just replies “@portentint, you suck”, then only you and any of their 10 followers who also follow you see it. @replies are only seen in regular feeds if both parties follow the person being @’d.
    I follow you, but I won’t see it.
    If they put anything in front of the @company, “[email protected] you suck”, then all 10 of their followers will see it as a regular tweet as if they had said “portentint sucks”.
    But I still won’t see it.
    Neither of those will enter my regular feed even though I am following @portentint. I will not see it unless I search for it or happen upon it.
    If someone is searching Twitter for any mention of “portentint”, it would come up in that search result. Every @reply is public unless they have their feed locked, but only if someone is searching for that term.
    I don’t know about everyone, but most of those 10,000 followers aren’t also running concurrent searches to find any mention of portentint, they are just following your feed.

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