Legal Implications of Social Media: Attribution
Ian Lurie Sep 3 2009
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 is CEO and founder of Portent Inc. He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Forbes.com and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, SIC and ad:Tech. Follow him on Twitter at portentint. He also just published a book about strategy for services businesses: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle. Read More