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Protect Your Business By Avoiding These Potentially Illegal Social Media Errors


Businesses can rise or fall overnight on social media, and it’s easier than ever for one controversial decision to get exposed as a trending story. This is all happening even without the risk of legal conflicts, which can easily feed into a social media scandal, like a yin and yang of disaster. Don’t assume that just because your competitors on social media are doing something, that it’s legal and safe. The common social media mistakes below have tarnished many businesses’ reputations, and even led to legal trouble.

Doxxing People and Businesses

Doxxing refers to releasing information about a person or people to the public online, when the information was supposed to be private. This could include real names, telephone numbers, addresses, and other sorts of contact or personal information. Some level of anonymity is important in order to be safe online, and the absolute worst thing you could ever do, even by mistake, is expose someone’s information. Usually, the information will be abused by the people who want it most.

Doxxing makes it easy for people to cause harm, such as constant phone calls, ordering undesired products to their address, or even doing similar things to family members. Perhaps worst among the consequences of doxxing is swatting, where a person calls in a false bomb, terrorism threat, etc. threat to a person’s house, causing swat members to storm their home. Be extremely careful about what you share online, even by fans. Ask before even sharing a screenshot of a positive review, asking if the person would like their name or any other elements blurred or blacked out.

Backlash Against Negativity

Everyone online with even a semblance of popularity is going to attract aggressive, mean-spirited, and downright unsavory people who take issue with them for one reason or another, sometimes cheekily called “haters”. The important thing when your business is getting this type of attention is to never, by implication or request, send your fans and customers after these people to strike back. This is social media mobbing, and it can easily escalate into a scandal or tragedy.

Angry groups of followers can work together, even if you specifically told them to back off, and commit all sorts of illegal actions, such as harassment or doxxing. Ultimately, businesses are at least somewhat responsible for the behavior of their audience, especially when they respond in what they believe is your best interest. The safest option is to never draw excess attention to anyone negatively affecting your business unless absolutely necessary, and always do so in a way that explicitly denies any desire for online vigilante justice.

Using False or Misleading Testimonials

Image via Flickr by dreamsjung

Lying in any respect is going to get you in trouble on social media, but putting up a deceitful appearance of success might be the worst of it. Fabricated testimonials are a major problem these days, earning the name ‘astroturfing’ when entire false businesses or entities are created just to present the illusion of grassroots support. Posting or paying for fake reviews, connecting with influencers without clearly outlining the nature of the relationship, and other seedy, deceitful tactics have resulted in fines of up to $100,000, based on past cases in New York.

Breaking Intellectual Property Law

Too many careless or malicious businesses use whatever they like online, with no regard for intellectual property laws. Massive online retailers are sadly filled with products considered an unauthorized use of another brand, or their images, slogans, trademarked terms, etc. Images are used without attribution and watermarks are edited out. Then there’s plagiarism, which could technically be done by mistake, but it’s easy to look up whether a piece of writing has already been made that’s similar to your own, and ignorance is no excuse.

Getting caught violating the intellectual property of others could net you a disproportionate amount of social media backlash and exposure on sites like IPWatchdog. Have specific means of getting images, fonts, and other potentially owned material in a way that is both legal, affordable, and convenient, and always check up on any relevant trademarks with the US Patent and Trade Office. Even if you are never taken to court, the price to your reputation could be just as devastating if news of your behavior spreads to the wrong people.

Improper Use of Private Data

The nature of consumer data has become much more fluid with the internet, and that means it’s easy to abuse people’s right to privacy on a grand scale. Selling customer phone numbers and survey results to related telemarketers is one example, as is collecting information without being clear with customers about it, or not providing a proper opt-in process. None of these qualify as ethical uses of data, and some could be outright illegal depending on local laws.

The fragility of information security goes both ways, because if someone on social media hacks their way into finding evidence of illicit or unethical use of data, they could release the data as justice or attempt blackmail. Never treat social media like some sort of secure vault of protected information, not even in private messages or on supposedly private platforms such as Snapchat, as even these have been hacked.

Maybe you don’t do anything illegal with the data you collect on customers and leads, but what about other businesses that you provide data to? This also applies to employees, particularly in the B2B sphere where connections between employees and other businesses need to be tracked. Have meetings to check on the relationships and data between each employee and their connections, while also allowing employees to speak honestly about their concerns regarding privacy and what sort of information is coming and going.

Each of the five mistakes above could cripple a business, but that’s the natural double-edge of social media. If, on the other hand, you respect others and use social media ethically, your high-quality shared content and engagement will help your business thrive. Keep a detailed social media policy for all related employees to read and acknowledge, so that problems like this are far less likely to spring up, and don’t resist seeking legal counsel every quarter if you’ll be making a lot of changes to your social media marketing plan.

About the author

Shane Hall