Telling it like it is online can generate accusations of defamation, cyber bullying, trademark infringement, and other legal claims with long names. Here are some of the tips I share in The Cyber Citizen’s Guide Through the Legal Jungle to help you side-step the potential negative consequences of speaking your mind online:
- Be Yourself. While you can post your online remarks anonymously, you should not pretend to be someone else. Online impersonation can be a crime.
- Stick to the Facts. Your risks of a defamation claim increase if you stray from verifiable facts when you discuss real people and real events. Changing the names is not always enough.
- Solicit Comments. If you offer news or public affairs information through a blog or online forum, offer the real people and companies mentioned an opportunity to confirm or deny any allegations. Exercising such journalistic objectivity may help you qualify for protection under laws such as the reporter privilege and shield laws.
- Respect the Limitations on Using Other’s Trademarks. It is generally legal to use specific company names and product brand names in your online commentary. However, you cannot use those names in a way that makes people mistakenly think you are affiliated with or sponsored by the targeted company.
- Consider the Impact on Your Job. Your employer may legitimately fire you for your online postings if you disclose any of your employer’s confidential information, make defamatory comments about your employer, threaten people in the work place, or otherwise violate your employer’s social networking policies.
- Disclose Any Quid Pro Quo. If you post reviews for which you receive free sample products or other compensation, federal guidelines indicate that you should disclose that fact. Federal guidelines also include the expectation that you provide truthful and substantiated descriptions of the products you review.