Category Archives: social media


Delete after reading?Twitter and social media started out being seen as a  ‘no laws ‘place where anything can happen.

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.

Celebrities can get into trouble for promoting brands without declaring they are being paid to do so , never mind the HMW Twitter redundancy stream.

Here are some key things any tweeter ought to know:

  1. 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.
  2.  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!
  3.  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.
  4.  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.
  5. 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).
  6. 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.
  7. 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
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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  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.


Filed under employment law, social media

Feedback or bullying – can we criticise our way to success?

shutterstock_29072275I am not a sensitive soul or an introvert.  Most of my life I have walked right up to people and told them where I thought they were going wrong.  Not a lot of those people are still speaking to me.  

I was taught to speak truth to power.

Somehow in that process I forgot that people don’t always have a strong sense of personal power, and there are times and places when this loud truth of mine is best left unsaid.   Those who loved me learned to duck, and everyone else walked away.

I am an extrovert, and I learn about things through talking about things.  The world of the introvert –who needs to walk away and think in private – was a closed book to me for most of my adult life.  They couldn’t get a word in edgeways, while I thought if it was important they would say something, interrupt me.

I still take up a lot of the oxygen in the room, but over time some patient souls have gentled me into looking beyond my intention (always good, of course) and into the havoc I occasionally create with my unsolicited and trenchant views.

I host a forum on LinkedIn, on bullying, harassment and discrimination in the UK looking at ways to prevent it, detect it and remedy it.   I have come to realise the connection between bullying and our managerial idea of performance feedback and communication.

This week I’ve been on the sidelines of several groups where conflict has broken out around public feedback and criticism.   Those who were giving the feedback and criticism were all acting from a standpoint of helpfulness and a desire to improve the outcome of a process.   All resulted in the criticism being received in an agitated or hostile way.

Online criticismIf criticism is well intentioned why would the person respond in such a hostile way?

1)    The intention behind the criticism does not affect whether performance itself improves as a result.  I used to think if I meant well, I did well – and the other person was to blame if it all went wrong (they had too much ego, couldn’t handle it, etc.).  It just doesn’t work.

2)    Unsolicited criticism rarely results in any change in performance – the most likely outcome is an argument or hurt feelings (amygdala hijack).   This method may stop someone doing something but is not likely to improve how they do it.  Walk up to the next ten people you meet and tell them how they could look better, eat better, earn more money, and see how many answers you get that don’t include   “…”!

3)    Public criticism is usually viewed by people who receive it as abusive and counter productive.  The public naming and shaming of people is normally regarded as a punishment and not a motivational or feedback tool.

When a group comes together for a common purpose, it is easy to assume that the same purpose is shared . . . and that our own method of achieving that purpose is naturally the right one.    That is rarely the case.

Inside an organisation, public criticism of an individual’s work can amount to bullying – with all the emotional and legal complications arising from that.  Work on the principle of public praise, private criticism (and you will have more colleagues who like you too).

Working in privateWhen we go online, we are in public.  The fact you can post to forums sitting on your sofa in your pyjamas can give a false sense of intimacy and privacy.  Try doing your social media more formally dressed to see if it changes your tone.

Criticism of all kinds abound on the online and offline world:

1)    Tactful – I wonder if you are trying to achieve….is that working?
2)    Direct – That needs improving
3)    Abrasive – That was a load of rubbish
4)    Abusive – You are an incompetent person
5)    Criminal – amounting to harassment and abuse that needs reporting

It is extremely rare anyone asks the question – What was the purpose of your actionWhat was the thinking behind it?    I wouldn’t walk up to you at a party and tell you I hated your outfit – not if I wanted you to talk to me.

You remember that guy at the party/networking event/meeting  you hated – the one who walked across the room and without even being asked told you what was wrong with the country today? (then kept at it for hours).  Remember how he changed your political views?  Your career choice?  The only thing he changed was your mood!

Online presence is not an invitation to be insulted – any more than going to a party is!   The wisdom of crowds does not come from shouting so loudly no one can think, but in sampling opinions and asking questions.   Reserve to yourself by all means the ‘right’ to be critical online but if  want the person to change how they are doing things – you should know – it is not likely to work.

We all need to raise the bar when it comes to our performance as bosses, managers, colleagues, friends, members of communities.   We can’t complain our way to paradise or criticise our way to success.

Our KoffeeKlatch intervention service around performance management is designed to get you moving, and to sort out where your business or your people are getting stuck.

Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy.
Tel: 08452 303050                  Fax: 08452 303060
You can follow Annabel on


Filed under bullying at work, performance management, social media

Anti-social media and business

What started as a great way to chat to your mates (and waste time at work) has turned into a multi-million  industry used by businesses to promote their brands.

The drunken college photos and tactless remarks published in the heat of the moment come back to bite . . . and suddenly people are saying “It’s private” about things they published to millions of people!.

Today people are talking about copyright, advertising codes and list ownership . . . and the old idea that somehow “cyberspace” or ‘social  media’ was outside the legal channel is beginning to fade.


facebook (Photo credit: sitmonkeysupreme)

It’s just like when pop festivals went from being free to paid.  The front line hippies move on to something else, and business moves in and turns the festival into something profitable, structured (and sometimes with better loos).

Years later, the same thing happened with raves.  Though your mates might not remember what you did at Glastonbury or the local rave, the big problem with social media is that there’s a record that everyone can see years later.

Your ancient rant about the guy/girl who dumped you reads like a sexist polemic from a trainee stalker . . . and here you are applying for a role in a front line equal opportunity employer’s PR team – and there’s your rant still drifting about, fatally undermining your pitch for the dream job (now) that you had no idea you would ever be interested in (then).

Social media is growing up.  It is still dynamic, exciting and fascinating to use for business and personal communication.   But now a whole set of legal rules apply.   From copyright, to slander, to harassment – the real world and the virtual world increasingly coincide and collide.

Business needs social media, and people who know how to use it.   It is too late for corporates to ban social media in the workplace or from corporate communications.  Even if you were to try to do this, or block access from company systems, people have it on their mobiles.

We constantly  use social media – from Twitter, to Facebook to Googleplus and WordPress to LinkedIn and even Pinterest   to promote our business and reach out to people who might want to work with us and think with us.  How could we ban that?  Why would we want to?

We need  social media policies that help people realise the effect they are having, but allow them to do their job which will increasingly involve using it.  We need bosses to understand the risks of social media and how to manage them.

For a great social media policy written by people who use it for people who use it click here.

To join us for half a day in Croydon on Social Media and the Law click   4 April and  6 June

Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy.

Tel: 08452 303050 Fax: 08452 303060 Website:
You can follow Annabel on Twitter


Filed under contract, employment law, social media