Could carelessness on social media land you in court?

Did you know that you can be sued for posting something online that is not true or for sharing or endorsing a false post made by someone else?  Did you also know that if you are sued, you could be ordered to pay compensation and legal costs and forced to make a public apology?

If the answer to these questions is ‘no’, then you are not alone, as recent research suggests that nearly 50 per cent of the UK’s 45 million social media users are not aware that they are legally responsible for what they do and say online.

There has been a significant rise in the number of legal claims for defamation being made as a result of social media posts in recent years,’ explains solicitor Laura Baglow of NetRights.

For example, in 2013 Sally Bercow, wife of the former House of Commons speaker John Bercow, was ordered to pay £15,000 to Lord McAlpine over a tweet she posted following a TV documentary into alleged child abuse by a senior, but unnamed, former Conservative politician, which read “Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *innocent face*”.  In 2015, the parent of a former pupil at St. John’s Preparatory School in North London was ordered to pay £95,000 after posting an online petition in which they made a series of untrue allegations.

When you might face a claim

For legal action to be taken against you for something you have posted or shared online, generally you must have written something or shared something written by someone else that is untrue and which has caused or is likely to cause the person who is threatening to sue you serious reputational harm.

If you are accused of saying something untrue or harmful about a business, then they must have suffered, or be likely to suffer, serious financial loss before they can take legal action against you.

It does not matter that you have not named the person or business in question.  If they can be identified from your post or online activity, then you could still find yourself in trouble. It is also irrelevant that you did not intend any harm or that the defamation was entirely accidental. Similarly, it is no defence that the statement was made or posted by someone else first.

Risks for employers

It is also not commonly known that employers can be responsible for their employees’ social media misuse even where it has taken place outside of work hours and away from the workplace.  This can prove very costly for employers as it can expose their business to litigation and have a damaging effect on the company reputation. It is therefore vital that all employers take action in advance to minimise these risks and to protect their organisation.

Why urgent legal advice is needed

Legal advice should be sought as soon as possible to avoid the risk of making matters worse.  NetRights can provide you with urgent legal advice if you are accused of making defamatory or libellous social media posts. We can help you to determine the right approach in the circumstances, including limiting any damage and/or defending your position.

How to reduce the risks to your business

There are steps that a company can take to minimise its exposure to liability for employee social media misuse.  It is essential to have an effective and up to date social media policy in place which communicates clearly to staff what actions they are, and are not, permitted to take on social media both inside and outside the workplace. Just as importantly, meaningful training should be provided to staff to ensure that they understand the risks connected with social media use and know how to avoid the pitfalls.

NetRights can draft a social media policy which is tailored to the needs of your company. NetRights can also provide training to your staff to ensure that your employees understand the risks of social media use and how to avoid them. This training includes practical tips on avoiding legal liability on social media.

NetRights is the Social Media, Internet and Media Law department of Parnalls Solicitors. For legal advice regarding social media posts, social media policies and training, please contact NetRights at or telephone 01566 772375. Find out more about NetRights here.

The contents of this article are for purposes of general awareness only and do not constitute legal or professional advice.

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