Technology Lawyer reminds us ‘Your Wall Is Your Responsibility’
Updated on July 8th, 2013
A recent court case has shown that a Facebook account holder can be liable for what is written on their wall, and this law is relevant for any business using social media pages as part of their web marketing strategy.
Social media logistics
Social media is a relatively new forum through which businesses are pitching to, communicating with and solving problems for their clients. Having a web strategy in place is vital for a healthy business and this will include having a twitter and facebook page, among others. We’ve all liked the page of some business or other, and when really motivated, may have felt compelled to write a comment on their wall. One would assume that such comments remain the property and therefore legal responsibility of the person who wrote them. WRONG!
Who’s responsible for comments on your wall?
A facebook account holder can be liable for the comments of others made on their Social Media pages if they are false, misleading and deceptive, and the account holder knew of the statements existence and failed to remove them. In other words, if your business can be shown to have knowingly left incorrect statements about your product, service or business on the social page, you become the author in the eyes of the law, and are therefore legally liable. You might as well have published the statements yourself.
A legal precedent
At first glance it seems rather unfair. How can failing to remove third party testimonials be treated the same as publishing the testimonials yourself? According to the Judge it can. The Judge discussed the evolution of the case law as it applied to defamation, and in particular focused on a case from 1937. In this case defamatory statements had been pinned to a bulletin board outside a club. The club was aware of their existence but did not remove them. The court decided that this failure to remove them amounted to publishing. Well that was 1937, land of quaint old bulletin boards.
Your wall is your responsibility
Welcome to 2011 – the modern day bulletin board is the facebook or twitter page. It’s a bit like, if someone else publishes a statement calling someone an idiot or claiming a product cures cancer or makes any other defamatory or misleading statement, and I do nothing to correct the misconception, then I am equally to blame. The same applies to a bulletin board in my business premise. The same applies to a social media page for my business.
Legal action is easily preventable and avoidable
This suddenly makes the reasonably innocuous facebook page feel like a potentially threatening legal minefield. But it’s not. Organisations involved in social media should simply monitor comments made by third parties closely, and delete any statements that are false or misleading – granted that there can be a fine line between something that is false and misleading and something that is merely a positive spin. Ensure your settings request for email notification every time a comment is made on your page, and commit to physically checking those comments when they arrive. If it is false, misleading or deceptive in any way, delete!
Malcolm Burrows, from Dundas Lawyers, specialises in Technology and Corporate Law and advises organisatons on social media policies. He wrote the full legal article outlining the legal principles and conclusions in this case.
You can follow @ITCorporateLaw on twitter.