With all the rage about social media these days, it’s easy to get hyped up about it. After all, if you have an email account, in a few simple clicks you can create a user name and password to just about any online platform and, before you know it, you’re broadcasting to the world! It’s exciting and fun, yes, but not without its challenges.

Most who spend time on social media soon learn the fundamentals of appropriate online behavior, ranging from basic netiquette to maintaining proper privacy settings. Yet, there are some not so foreseeable legal pitfalls you might encounter, as well, and this blog post aims to offer guidance on a few of those so that your social media experience can be more rewarding.

Know Who You Represent

Whether you are a professional in a service field, identified with a high profile brand, or volunteer for a local non-profit, adhering to the social media policies and laws related to the organizations you represent is essential. Posts or pictures that are associated with trademarks, professions, or brands subject you to the social media policies and laws governing related organizations and, if those policies or laws are not adhered to, could put you in a legal crunch. To avoid this pitfall, make sure to read and observe the social media and legal policies of the organizations you represent online.

Do Not Post About Your Legal Matters

If you or an organization you represent is involved in an ongoing legal matter, whether as a party, a witness, a jury person, or otherwise, don’t post anything about it online. Really. Don’t! Once you do, that post becomes evidence and is subject to discovery. Removing it also subjects you to charges, fines, and penalties. Therefore, rather than taking your legal matter online, leave it to the justice system to handle. Period.

The World Is Not So Small

While social media outlets seem to make the world within reach to anyone with a computer and internet access, if you’re faced with a legal challenge in Hawaii when you live in rural West Virginia, the world can become a pretty big place. Trying to defend cases related to your online activities in jurisdictions miles away can be costly and stressful. Purposefully availing yourself to another jurisdiction in your posts and online agreements may subject you to a long distance legal fight. To avoid this pitfall, avoid promoting activity online that targets those outside of jurisdictions where you intend to be subjected and read terms of service on sites you regularly utilize so that you know when you’re agreeing to a jurisdiction outside of your own.

Generally speaking, by using some common sense, being nice, and heeding your mom’s old adage, “if you wouldn’t want to see it on the front page of the New York Times, don’t put it in writing,” you can steer clear of a lot of trouble. When in doubt, leave it out – but don’t forget to have fun, as well. Informed, intelligent use of social media can be rewarding and profitable. So use caution, but engage.

Layne Diehl is an attorney who is committed to supporting the legal needs of small businesses and entrepreneurs in the state of West Virginia. You can learn more about Layne by visiting her firm’s website at http://www.diehllaw.net, by liking her firm’s Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/diehllaw, or by following her on twitter at @laynediehl.

Disclaimer – This blog post is designed to provide general guidance about a limited few of the legal pitfalls associated with online activity, but is not intended to be an exhaustive discussion or a replacement for professional legal advice. If you have questions of a legal nature related to your online activity, you are advised to consult a licensed attorney experienced and competent in the areas of internet and social media law.

Image Credit: Michael Theis