Navigating Social Media Legal Risks: Safeguarding Your Business

Posted on by Ben Rothke

In the documentary Scared Straight! a group of inmates terrify young offenders in an attempt to “scare them straight”" (hence the film's title) so that those teenagers will avoid prison life.  A 2002 meta-analysis of the results of a number of scared straight and similar intervention programs found that they actively increased crime rates, leading to higher re-offense rates than in control groups that did not receive the intervention.

For those considering the use of social media in their business, it is quite easy to read Navigating Social Media Legal Risks: Safeguarding Your Business as a scared straight type of reference.  Author Robert McHale provides so many legal horror stories, that most people would simply be too afraid of the legal and regulatory risks to every consider using social media. 

But the reality is that social media is becoming required for nearly every business.  With that,Navigating Social Media Legal Risks, author and attorney Robert McHale, with Eric Garulay, provide a fascinating and invaluable reference to any organization that wants to use social media, and not violate any of the myriad state, federal and international laws and regulations.

Social media makes it relatively easy for organizations to find and retain customers and increase sales, amongst many other benefits.  At the same time, it can expose an organization to significant and highly-expensive legal risks and issues, and find themselves at the receiving end of a subpoena.

The books 12 chapters take a look at various aspects of social media and details how to use them in a legal and judicious manner.

In chapter 1, the book details social media promotions law around contests and sweepstakes.  People often use the terms contest and sweepstake interchangeably, but the words have very different meanings.  There are various contests and sweepstakes laws that must be dealt with before these promotions can commence.  Often web sites will combines elements of contests and sweepstakes, include prizes, chances and considerations, which in turn make it a lottery.  The issue is that it is illegal for most entities to create a lottery.  So if not done correctly, a simple contest can turn into a costly legal mess.

Chapter 2 deals with online endorsements and testimonials.  Any company that will use online endorsements and testimonials in their advertising must ensure that they are following all truth in advertising laws.  The book details numerous areas where regulators have launched investigations and taken enforcement actions against violators.  The book notes that one rogue blogger will not likely trigger a law enforcement action if your company has a reasonable training and monitoring program in place.

Chapter 5 shows how to manage the legal risks of UGC (user-generated content).  UGC can drive significant amounts of traffic to a web site, but also creates legal risks.

Organizations can find protection from UGC via the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA).  But those firms that want to enjoy the protections of the DMCA and CDA are required to fully comply with a very detailed set of legal requirements, leaving them very little room for error.  The chapter details how to avoid those errors.

The book has scores of examples of things many readers may not have thought about.  For example, chapter 8 writes of the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA). The purpose of the ACPA is to protect consumers and American businesses and provide clarity in the law for trademark owners by prohibiting the bad-faith and abusive registration of distinctive marks as Internet domain names with the intent to profit from the goodwill associated with such marks-a practice commonly referred to as 'cybersquatting.

Yet what about the post-domain path of a URL, which is everything after the domain name.  Of which question is, are post-domain path names protected under the ACPA?  For example, is the post-domain path of owned by Boeing or simply the person who registered it first? The courts are grappling with that and similar questions.

In chapter 9, the authors detail the need for designing a geolocation data security plan.  This is particularly important for firms that handle consumer’s geolocation data.  Such a plan is particularly important given that the tracking, storage and sharing of precise geolocation information is becoming increasingly subject to legal and regulatory requirements.

The book concludes with 10 social media lessons that details some noteworthy social media business entanglements and the lessons that businesses must learn from them.  A few of these include: your Twitter hashtag can be used against your, do not pay for or use false endorsements and other invaluable lessons.  The advice in these 10 tips alone are worth the price of the book.

Each chapter ends with detailed tactical lists of dos and donts around the specific topic.

The book should be required reading for every organization.  Even those firms that have completely rejected any form of corporate social media interaction can still be held liable for actions of their employees.   So such firms can’t simply bury their head in the sand.

At $30-, Navigating Social Media Legal Risks: Safeguarding Your Business is the cheapest legal advice you can get, and is worth every penny.  If you are looking for crystal clear and detailed advice on social media law, you won’t find a better book. 

The world of social media is fraught with legal danger which can be quite expensive and embarrassing to recover from.  Navigating Social Media Legal Risks: Safeguarding Your Businesslives up to its title, and provides an outstanding path to navigate the dangerous waters of social media.

Ben Rothke

Senior Information Security Manager, Tapad


data security legislation privacy

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