Social media and the law

In a recent article in The Irish Times (17th February 2014) by Cliona Kimber, she outlined the real difficulties for the law to keep up with the incredibly fast changes in social media.

One of the most recent major issues which caused major distress was the ‘neknominations’ drinking challenge, and more recently we have had a more positive social media phenomenon with the ‘no makeup selfie’ which has raised considerable amounts of money for cancer charities.

People are using social media as a means of engaging with the general public in a way we have never seen before, and that was never possible before. Sadly, this includes increasing amounts of social abuse. Twitter has been a particular issue, where people have had to close their accounts due to constant abuse online. However, there are many positives also, and certainly social media is a force that we need to learn to live with.

Irish law (and international law) is struggling to cope with the fast-moving social media phenomenon. Certainly it can be libelous to communicate a false statement in social media which harms someone’s reputation. Also, if private information is published on social media about an individual, this could give rise to a potential privacy claim.

The courts are having to develop new approaches to deal with the speed and ubiquity of internet defamation – this is complicated by the global reach of social media products – many orginate in the US, and the law must take this into account.

Company Safeguards:  We now know that a company’s confidential information on its products and networks and the reputation of a company have both been recognised by the courts as constituting part of the property of the company. Recent judgements in the U.K. have also held that a company can own an employee’s LinkedIn contacts.

However, speed is essential if a company needs to prevent damage through social media. If posts on social media are defamatory, or may harm the company’s property or products, then injunctions will be required to stop further damage.

The law will continue to evolve in the way we manage social media, but this is an area that employers must keep reviewing, as social media changes at such a fast pace.