The internet has revolutionized the way we communicate, but with it comes an opportunity for legal trouble. These days, there is a website for anything and everything. Social media including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, and Google+ are just a few of the most popular networking websites offered. Wikipedia, blogs, and review sites allow people from across the world to engage in content. The internet is a great way to connect with others, and we want you to post safely on the web with these helpful tips.

Reviews

Google, Yelp, Citysearch, and Amazon are just some of the review sites that allow people to express their opinions of services, products and businesses by leaving a review. We expect those reviews to be the individual’s honest opinion, right? That is not always the case. Some businesses and individuals have bribed people into leaving a positive review to boost their appearance or profit, or they try to change their IP addresses when writing multiple reviews to deceive automatic filters. This latest trend in false advertising is called “astroturfing.” Fake reviews are not just deceiving, they are illegal. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) monitors the web for “unfair or deceptive marketing.” You cannot be paid to post a review, even if it is true, unless the paid endorsement is clearly stated and understood by both you and the company or individual asking for the endorsement. Next time you are leaving a review, make sure it is the truth!

Online Contests, Giveaways, and Promotions

Planning a contest, giveaway or promotion? Make sure you understand each social media platform’s unique rules and regulations first.

    • Facebook- You can only post online contests, giveaways, and promotions on pages, not personal timelines. To keep content authentic, you cannot ask people to like, share or post something about your promotion on their personal timeline. You cannot post these phrases: “share on your timeline to enter,” or “share on your friend’s timeline to get additional entries,” or “tag your friends in this post to enter.” Asking people to tag themselves in pictures of a product offered by you or your business in exchange for a chance to win a prize, is not allowed by Facebook.
    • Instagram- You cannot ask people to tag themselves in a photo if they are not in the picture for your contest, giveaway or promotion. You are required to have a complete release of Instagram by each entrant or participants, and acknowledgment that Instagram is not associated with the contest, giveaway or promotion in any way.
    • Twitter: Discourage users from creating multiple accounts to enter a contest, giveaway or promotion. Posting a Tweet excessively during one day is highly discouraged. It’s important to fairly choose a winner by using all the entries submitted from comments, personal messages, etc. All contests, giveaways or promotions must follow the Twitter guidelines.

For the full social media guidelines, visit these links:

Facebook

Instagram

Twitter

    • Blogs: Contests, giveaways, and promotions are a great way to connect with readers through your blog, but make sure you are keeping it legal. Personal blogs must follow the FTC Guidelines. In order to understand what you can and cannot do in the FTC Guidelines, it is important to understand the difference between a sweepstake and a lottery. The law sees a “sweepstake” as a giveaway with a free entry or multiple entries. A “lottery” is a giveaway where the entrant gives “consideration” (anything of value) in exchange for a chance to win. In other words, you pay money or offer a gift, product, service and even time for a chance to win. Think about how you must pay for a lottery ticket for a chance to win the Powerball. States have different laws on sweepstakes, so it is best to research the laws in all the states you think you may reach to be safe. There are also national laws for sweepstakes that are important to follow. Make sure your rules are crystal clear, listing information about who can enter, what the prize is, how the winner will be chosen, when the contest ends, and any exclusions and tax information. Include anything else you think your readers might need to know.

When posting on social media and blogs, make your contest, giveaway or promotion rules clear in the shortest and most engaging way possible. By doing so, you will be following the FTC’s guidelines and have a better chance at your readers reading them.

Endorsements

As a blogger or someone who reviews a product or service online, you must disclose the information if you were paid, received a deep discount, or given free items by the company. Make sure you disclose the information in a way that is clear to your reader. There is no special wording needed for your disclosure. According to The FTC Endorsement Guides, you can say something like, “Company X gave me this product to try . . . .”  After disclosing the information, make sure your post is honest and not misleading. Before posting, ask yourself if your opinion is swayed in any way. If so, don’t post!

Copyright

Never assume a photo online is free for the taking. Many photos are copyrighted and belong to the person who took the photo or created the image. Before using any photo online, find the source and ask for permission. Pinterest is vulnerable for copyright law violations. It is possible that the owner of a photo or image can ask a Pinterest user to remove the material from their account. If your account receives too many copyright complaints, it may be shut down.

Employee Rights

Your employee posted a negative comment your business on the internet. Before you fire your employee, make sure you are doing so legally. Depending on the circumstance, an employee may have the right to write negative reviews about the business they work. Employers have the right to write about employees as well.

Posting Your Photos of People

Cover your bases when taking photos at events or your business. When taking photos of customers or attendees, be sure to clearly post that by attending the event, they understand photographs will be taken and they are consenting to their use. Taking the photos of people and sharing on social media is often low-risk. But the more places you share the photo, such as in a blog or promotional material, the higher your risk becomes as more people see the image. Be particularly careful when taking and using photographs of children.

Tips

  • If you borrow content online, be sure to attribute, quote or cite the source and include a link to the original content. The clearer you are with the borrowed writing piece, the better you are off legally.
  • It’s a good idea to take down content you posted on social media if it’s going to be used in a lawsuit. It is usually an effective way to avoid litigation.
  • Don’t delete all negative reviews or comments. They add validation to your business and offer you the opportunity to respond to any unhappy customers and fix their problem. You lower your risk of being accused of false advertising by allowing all voices, good and bad, to be heard online.
  • Your posts online must be truthful and honest. Think before you post!
  • Know the rules before posting. It could save you a lot of legal trouble.
  • Social media users should always act appropriately when making posts. Users can get themselves into the most trouble by posting defamatory content or content that infringes on intellectual property rights.
  • Don’t lie about your age on social media. Many states are passing laws that create obligations to verify a user’s age. Defamation or infringement charges could be issued if a user is fraudulent or untruthful about this information.

Specific Laws Pertaining to Social Networking Sites

Section 512(c) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Before making a post, comment or review online use common sense and common courtesy. If you are uncertain about how your post could be perceived, it is always best to just not post. At the end of the day, it’s better to be informed and cautious than end up in legal trouble from the web.