Research in the US suggests that up to 85% of users feel more connected to SMEs after following them on twitter, and are more likely to purchase goods and services from them in the future.
With approximately 15 million twitter users in the UK alone, and 500 million tweets posted worldwide on a daily basis, the potential for SMEs to increase their customer base by providing targeted and thoughtful comment is significant.
It’s sometimes very difficult to make your business stand out amongst busy social media activity without a forthright opinion or point of view. The risk however, is that interesting comment in the virtual world may turn into a very expensive and embarrassing legal claim against you and your business in the real world.
1. Avoid false statements of fact
The most obvious risk is that you can be sued for defamation by making a false statement of fact which may damage the reputation of an individual or business. Although you need to check your facts before you post, even if the information posted is a true statement, you will bare the responsibility as the owner of the twitter account to prove its truth, which can mean substantial legal fees and damaging publicity until you reach court.
2. Opinions can be caught too
Many opinions can be taken by law as statements of fact and could be viewed as being defamatory. The court’s look at the context in which the statement is made, and whether it is asserting a provable fact – merely labeling something as ‘in my opinion’ is no defence.
3. The dangers of the retweet
With twitter there are also added dangers associated with retweeting. Every re-publication of a defamatory statement creates a fresh claim, even if you are retweeting from an impeccable source. The poster of the original defamatory tweet is also potentially liable for every retweet!
4. You can’t hide behind pseudonyms
There is also a real danger that posting in an anonymous or personal context will not protect you or your business from being sued. Twitter can be forced to give up your identity, and if the reasonable reader of the tweet associates it or you with your business, both you and your business could be sued.
5. It’s not just defamation – other ways you can end up being sued
Revealing personal or confidential details without the subject’s consent is a breach of Data Protection laws and can lead to a fine or even prison. In addition, the posting of words deemed as causing alarm or distress to the subject of the tweet can lead to criminal prosecution or a civil claim for an injunction and damages. Abusive or offensive tweets can lead to criminal prosecution under the Communications Act
Finally, don’t mislead your followers. A tweet containing false, or misleading commercial information could result in damages or a criminal prosecution and a two year prison sentence.
To read Linder Myers ‘Twitter and the Law’ FAQ click here