Sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter provide meeting planners with powerful tools to connect with meeting attendees, hotels, and other planners, offering an opportunity to communicate to a large audience almost instantaneously and with virtually no cost.
While these sites can be effective marketing tools, their use is not without risk of legal consequences.
First, consider potential intellectual property issues. Users ofsites generally must agree to follow the guidelines of the site host. Thus, an organization posting material about a meeting or event may find that it does not own the content of the social media page and, in fact, has given the site the ability to access, use, or share information (including deleted information). And because it’s so easy for users to post content on an organization’s social media page, it’s also easy for them to violate a third party’s copyright by unknowingly posting material that the originator may not necessarily have wanted to share.
If users tweet off your site, it sets you up for the possibility of defamatory or false comments. Even if a comment (for example, an unfavorable review of a hotel or other venue) is not defamatory, it might be the basis of other liability, such as interference with advantageous economic relations, fraud, or misrepresentation.
Thus, any organization using social media for marketing or networking should prepare carefully considered user policies that make it clear that the organization has the ability to control content and remove potentially harmful material. Ideally, potential users of a social media site would somehow be vetted and required to agree to the host’s rules and policies before being allowed to participate. However, a simple “I agree to terms and conditions” click-through on the Web site is sufficient.
The importance of an organization being able to control and possibly remove postings cannot be emphasized enough. All social media postings are subject to discovery in litigation proceedings, the same as e-mails or hard-copy documents. Once a lawsuit has begun, social media postings cannot be “cleaned up” or discarded. So it’s important to have a clear document-retention policy to remove outdated information periodically. (Remember that some content might never be totally eliminated because of the social media host’s retention policies.)
A public posting on a public site is generally not private, but a posting may be private if it is on a password-protected site, such as a “members only” portal.
Many employers use social media to check on current or potential employees, either to verify information supplied by an applicant or to ascertain what employees are posting on “personal” social media sites about their organization and/or other employees. Such monitoring is not illegal, but employers may not use information found on social media sites to discriminate against an individual due to race, religion, national origin, or other protected categories.
While no statutes specifically address social media, some laws affect its use. For example, the CAN-SPAM Act of 2005 regulates unsolicited e-mail and can be used against such things as Twitter postings, especially those that can be viewed as advertisements (which could include meeting and event promotions). Just like e-mail, social media posts should not contain misleading subject lines, must provide a way to unsubscribe or opt out, and must include an organization’s mailing address (or links to this information).
James M. Goldberg is a principal in the Washington, D.C., law firm of Goldberg & Associates PLLC. His practice focuses on representing associations, corporations, and independent meeting planners. He is the author of The Meeting Planner's Legal Handbook.
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