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THINK TWICE BEFORE YOU POST; SOCIAL MEDIA AND DEFAMATION LAW

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Social media-its free, right? According to one cautionary tale, not so much.

A North Carolina woman recently made news when she paid a $500,000 settlement over a comment she made on Facebook. The nearly two years of litigation came after she allegedly faulted her co-worker with the death of her son in a Facebook comment. The co-worker sued for libel and won.

Social media is undoubtedly a must for any business trying to stay current and competitive in a fast-paced market. A recent study found that similarly, individuals feel the need to stay on social media to remain connected with family and friends. But, how can businesses and individuals stay active on social media and avoid liability?

First, what is libel?

Libel is a published untruth, written or broadcasted, that does harm to another's reputation. It falls under the general category of "defamation"-statements that causes injury to a third-party's reputation.

The test for defamation turns on whether a statement comes off as an opinion or statement of fact. Recently, the Utah Court of Appeals ruled that a comment made on Yelp!-a popular online review site-was not defamation because the commenter was merely stating his opinion.

Defamation law also asks how much notoriety the defamed individual has. Public figures are those who are so well-known that their lives have essentially become public. Think Oprah or Brad Pitt.

More commonly, however, individuals who have engaged the public eye with respect to a specific issue become public figures for purposes of that issue. These are limited purpose public figures. With social media at our fingertips, we may only be a click away from attaining general notoriety and becoming a limited purpose public figure.

Think twice before you post

Individuals should think carefully about when they post. Are the facts true? And, if you're expressing an opinion, did you make that clear?

Even more importantly, businesses should be aware of the potential liabilities involved with having social media and plan their posts accordingly. While keeping up a social media presence and responding to customer comments may be a task for an intern or lower-level employee, first put in place a process so every tweet, comment or post is approved. Extra precautions to check facts, verify sources, and confirm any quotes should be a part of any business' social media plan.

While social media can be your greatest tool, it can also be your greatest liability. Putting in place a careful and cautious social media plan can set your business up for social media success.

Dial v. Hammond, 2017 WL 1423288 (N.C.Super.)

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