The Legalities of Social Media and How to Stay In the Lines

When it comes to social media, companies are always worried about the rules that those particular companies—Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.—have put into place. There are quite a few guidelines to follow and things to keep in mind so that search engines don’t penalize you and social networks don’t ban you.

internet police

However, what many companies fail to realize is that the “real” law is also involved. Whenever you do something online, you still have to abide by the general laws we live with everyday such as intellectual property laws, copyright laws, false advertising, etc.

Whether you realize you’re doing something wrong or not, you have to continually ask yourself: Is there a hidden or unfamiliar law I need to worry about here?

Staying Legal with Social Media

According to a Convince and Convert article, 56 percent of Americans have a profile on a social networking site, and 22 percent of Americans admit to using a social networking site several times per day.

As this number continues to increase, your social media efforts likely will too. As you continue to develop your social strategy, there are a few legalities you need to keep in mind:

  • Trademarks. When you set out to create a company name or tagline, which is more common with social media, you have to make sure that another company has not already trademarked the name or phrase. You can usually just change the name or phrase and move on, but sometimes companies can get you into legal trouble. You can check to see if something is trademarked here.
  • Creative Commons License. Many of us are guilty of trying to snag some photos off the of the Internet and hope no one notices. While it might be tempting, it is actually illegal to use photos if the photo does not have a creative commons license (otherwise it’s almost like stealing). Creative commons is something that the owner of the photo can put on the photo (or even article) that allows others to use the photo. There is oftentimes rules you have to follow that will differ from photo to photo, but if the license allows for commercial use, just read up on any other rules for using the photo and you should be good to go.
  • Quoting and Giving Credit. You always want to make sure that you give credit to any article or person you’re quoting. This ensures that you are not trying to take credit for an idea and it proves that you aren’t making anything up.
  • Social Games. Companies are always looking to push the evelope and do something fun on social media, so games have become more popular. However, you have to be sure that you follow a few legal rules: One, if you start a game or contest and change the rules halfway through, the state’s attorney general won’t be happy. Two, if you’re going to have a lottery, you cannot ask your participants to pay to play.
  • False Advertising. You want all of the content you post on social media accounts to be truthful, and many fall into this trap because it’s so easy to post something without thinking much of it. Don’t make assumptions about your competitors and don’t make up information about your company or another company online. You can learn more from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Although social media might seem very relaxed, more and more companies are cracking down on what is acceptable and what is not. Lawyers are beginning to put a focus on social media and coming up with different ways to defend and/or prosecute for some of these law-breaking points, so it’s safe to say that it is only becoming more important to remain legal when working with social media

.  Are there any other legalities that you’ve had to deal with in the past when it came to social media or search? Let us know your story and tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

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