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These days, I find myself following legal issues involving social media with great interest and, occasionally, with considerable amusement and surprise. My interest isn’t driven entirely by my occupation, and the situations I have read about span far beyond the employment law niche in which I practice. Indeed, social media seems to have found its way into criminal law, tort law, securities law, competition law, etc.
A common denominator among many of the situations I have seen is the response of the perpetrator after having been befallen by legal troubles – “I shouldn’t have posted that on social media” (or some variation) – as if to suggest that it was social media’s fault that (s)he is now in hot water!
By making such a comment, the individual is ignoring the root cause of his/her troubles, which rarely has anything to do with social media, and which almost inevitably has more to do with: (a) his/her conduct; and/or (b) his/her false assumption that social media provides greater anonymity and/or legal protection to its users than any other forum or medium through which information is communicated. This assumption couldn’t be further from the truth.
Some examples of what I mean:
- Posting evidence of your conduct on Facebook is no different than writing about it in a letter to a friend or family member.
- Making derogatory comments in a YouTube video is no different than doing so on a radio or television broadcast.
- Sharing confidential information on Twitter is no different than sharing it in person.
With this in mind, the appropriate response to one’s legal troubles ought to be: “I shouldn’t have done that!”
Social media is simple, really. Users should treat it as they would treat any other manner of communication, by recognizing that content may not be private, and by remembering: “if you wouldn’t do it in person, don’t do it online”.
Ryan D. Campbell