Social Networking- everyone does it…
Let’s blur the line between personal and professional even more. Professionals today are tied to our communication devices. We Tweet, SKYPE, Facebook and Myspace. Social networking has evolved as common practice both personally and professionally. The question this creates is: what, if any risk does this create for a business owner? Can a business be held liable for social networking done at work? What can a business do to limit any exposure?
Possible sources of liability related to social networking primarily revolve around libel which is defined by Webster’s online dictionary as “defamation of a person by written or representational means.” An employee who is social networking on company time or around company business may open that company up to this type of exposure. This may especially be true if a company has an internal strategy which includes social networking as part of it marketing efforts. An example is when a sales person is commenting to a prospect on a competitor for an account and may write something like, “Company X never gets product out on time, in fact I heard that they were going to be acquired by Company Y within the next month or so because of their poor performance.”
On the site socialnetworking.lovetoknow.com, it states: “Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act: Communications decency covers legal issues such as defamation and illegal content. Ideally, a content provider should not report false or defamatory news. But users of social networking sites can and often do post anything they want, including rumors and blatant lies. This section of the communications decency act doesn’t protect those users so much as it protects the social networking service itself from being served in a liability or defamation law suit.”
That site goes on to say, “A good rule of thumb when it comes to posting on a social networking site and legal issues is that once something in posted in one place, there is no guarantee it will ever be removed from the growing body of internet content. So if you don’t want it online forever, don’t post it.”
It seems there is some protection afforded to the social networking sites, but NOT for the users. When that user is an employee, the employer has some possible liability related to the content submitted.
What can a business do to limit any exposure? Always a good start is to have clear policies and procedures in place regarding expected behaviors of employees while engaging in work activities. A company may decide that only a LinkedIn account is acceptable while at work and define what is and is not appropriate when it comes to communication and networking. Another source of protection for the company may be found in a company’s General Liability coverage. It is important to discuss with your agent to confirm Personal and Advertising Injury has not been excluded based on your specific type of business.
It is clear that social networking creates both great opportunities as well as some legal pitfalls. Connect with your team of trusted advisors to confirm you are doing everything in your power to manage your exposure. TTFN
Tony Johnson is an Accredited Advisor in Insurance and can be reached at Davidson Insurance, 360-514-9550 or Tony [at] Davidsoninsurance [dot] com