Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Tips on Online Content & Legal Protection

Posted by Amanda Walsh

Today’s post relates to a recent post I wrote concerning “Social Media Faux Pas.” In the post, I wrote about the libel lawsuit against Amanda Bonnen, a woman from Chicago who is being sued over a tweet she posted on her Twitter account. Bonnen’s tweet read, “Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it's okay." Her former realty management company, Horizon Group Management, then sued her for “publishing a false and defamatory tweet” on May 12 about their company. The suit claims that Bonnen’s remark went out to the world because her Twitter profile was public, although she only had 20 “followers” at the time. The suit was filed for $50,000 in damages!

I then stumbled across this article from Ragan.com called, “Online content: What—and whom—does the law protect?” by Michael Sebastian which provided tips for those worrying about the legal consequences of social media engagement.

Sebastian consulted with Bruce Johnson, a defamation attorney from Seattle firm Davis Wright Tremaine, LLP.

Below I included three interesting tips from Johnson marked in bold with my corresponding comments:

1. “You are not responsible for user-generated content on your Web site. But if you take an active role in producing third-party content, then you can be held responsible for it.”

a. Meaning you are not responsible for defamatory comments left on your company’s blog by outsiders because you are not the writer of that content. But if in the comment section, you ask for specific feedback to questions as opposed to having a blank section for comments, then you could be held accountable.

2. “The courts protect anonymity.”

a. In order to find out the identities of anonymous commenters, a company must prove to the court there is “good reason” to know their identity (i.e. that their comments broke the law.)

3. “Internal communication is protected from defamation lawsuits.”

a. This was a point I did not take into consideration. If the message is not intended for public view, (i.e. something written in an internal publication) it is probably protected against lawsuits.

To read more from the article by Michael Sebastian and attorney Bruce Johnson, check out the article here.

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