Actually, that never was true, and if you are still thinking that is how it works you are working from the wrong understanding.
Twitter is a fabulous place to promote your business or express yourself. Like any other place (real or cyber) there are laws that can tangle you up (or protect you). Lately we have seen Lord McAlpine sue Sally Bercow for libel (or should that be Twibel?) – here’s the judgement.
Here are some key things any tweeter ought to know:
- The law of libel and slander applies on Twitter. You are ‘publishing’ something for everyone to read. Do not tweet or retweet anything negative about a person unless you can prove it is true. The fact everyone else is doing it does not get you off the hook. Is it good for your business to complain a lot on Twitter anyway – even if it is fair comment – we all unfollow people who do nothing but complain – it doesn’t make for interesting tweets. Criminal law applies in the twitter world too, so if you make threats of violence you may find the police knocking on your door.
- You will see Twitter accounts set up with profiles that say “views are my own…” these are accounts trying to make it clear that the tweeter is just talking for themselves, not for their organisations. This is because employers can be liable for what their employees tweet in the organisation’s name – even if they didn’t know it was being tweeted!
- If you are receiving money or benefits for promoting a brand or mentioning it, then you need to make this clear. If this is the purpose of your Twitter account you might set up the profile to say –“ sponsored by xxxx to tweet about”….If it is just one tweet then” sponsored by xxx” must be included. Paid content is advertising however you look at it and is covered by the ASA code. Re-Tweeting other people’s ads is fine as long as you are not getting paid/benefits in which case the same rules apply.
- Copyright. While anything put up as a tweet is an invitation to retweet it (and your Twitter contract says it will be and there is no grounds for complaint if it is) you need to be careful about what your own original tweets contain. Most newspapers have share buttons that include Twitter and simply tweeting an article you found online using the site providers share is not going to cause problems (the terms of service on the sites usually permit this) but if you are compiling the copy and reselling it via Twitter or some other form that is different. There is a real different between a tweet out of what you saw in your morning newspaper, and paid content based on that being tweeted out so you can sell it. There are lots of myths about copyright. Make sure you are not working on a misunderstanding.
- Trademark. If you are tweeting as a brand, you need to make sure it is not someone else’s brand before you starting building a following and talking to the world. You can do a free search to see if the trademark is already registered (google it too).
- Cyberbullying, harassment and trolls. You can block (and report) any user who sends you any tweet you don’t care to read. You do not have to suffer abuse or insult on your Twitter account. Twitter have a great page on what to do. If you put up any material that is against the law, it is possible to get a court order and find out your account details. The police can deal with harassment when it comes within the law so all the really nasty things that would get you into trouble in real life can have the same effect on Twitter.
- You agreed a contract with Twitter when you set up your account. You can read it here It is one of the clearest of all the social media providers. Some key things to be aware of:
- If you don’t abide by the rules they can shut your account
- They won’t pay you any compensation
- You are liable for any breaches of copyright, libel etc
- If you have staff or sub contractors or external agencies tweeting for your brand then they can do as much harm as good. In theory a professional should know what they are doing but then again recently an experienced IT specialist representing her brand at a conference put more than a foot wrong If that is your employee tweeting your account you may be liable for what they do.
- Some professions need to back up their tweets since their regulator requires it. If you are an IFA, solicitor or professional giving advice make sure you are familiar with your own professional rules before you start. It is not difficult to comply with the rules but it is important that you do so.
- Make sure you have up to date passwords for all your Twitter accounts and that you can change then rapidly if something goes wrong. If you are doing everything you can to put things right you will be in a stronger legal position than if you let someone use your account for weeks to hack it, libel people or breach other people’s copyright.
These are not things that should stop you being on Twitter or using it to promote your brand – any more than you should refuse to advertise your brand because advertising is regulated by the ASA. They are things you need to think about, get to understand and take care of.
We do short courses on social media and the law We also have a great social media policy that you can work through and issue to staff and anyone who is tweeting for you. The combination of understanding and setting rules will really help to keep you safe and productive in the cyberworld.
For more information on our training or social media policy or resources around social media and legal issues check out our bitly bundle. We update it as we work so it grows over time.
Annabel Kaye is a Director of Irenicon – specialist employment law and HR consultancy she founded in 1980. She is a keen tweeter http://twitter.com/annabelkaye She has developed a range of social media policies for organisations such as the Public Relations Consultants Association, and is committed to helping entrepreneurs profitably manage the people side of their business.