Suing on social media: What you need to know before you post

AMHERST, N.Y. (WIVB) –  Think before you post: It’s a warning you’ve likely heard before in this social media era. But can what you post land you in serious trouble with the law?

It’s no secret, people seem to be more gutsy with what they say online. Internet trolls take it to the extreme. But many of you could even be guilty of posting a snarky comment or embarrassing photo of a friend somewhere on the internet.

What you might not know is that this can land you in legal hot water and could cost you some serious cash.

On your Twitter or Facebook account, It’s more than likely you’ll find an unflattering photo or post about a stranger. But what if this were to happen to you?  Hundreds of people like, share and comment. Do you have any legal recourse against anyone? Law Professor and social media expert Mark Bartholomew says it is possible. “There are certain avenues that allow you to sue someone for posting images or saying certain things on social media,” he said.

“If you took someones picture without their permission, and posted it on Twitter, or Instagram or Facebook, you’re violating their publicity rights, their rights to their own image,” Bartholomew said.

And a lot of times this happens without you even knowing.

“Oftentimes what you’re doing is a violation of the law, it’s just that people aren’t aware of this because the technology is so new,” he said.

These cases are rare, most of the time what happens online stays there, and no one bothers to sue. But, Bartholomew says, that’s changing.

“We see a situation where the courts are thinking, yeah maybe this is a law that just doesn’t apply to celebrities, it applies to regular people too and once we get a little momentum in that direction I could see more of these lawsuits,” he said.

Social media and online content litigation is one of the fastest growing legal specialties in the U.S. The number of cases filed every month has risen consistently since 2007.

Bartholomew said, “You have a right to your own image. People can’t take that without your permission.”

The key to being sued on social media is, defamation. It has to be a post that is harmful to your reputation in a tangible way.

He said, “Defamation refers to a situation where you say something that is usually untrue and maligns someones character in a way that harms them. Just posting that picture of someone that is unflattering, that’s not defamation.”

For avid social media users, it’s those posting anonymously that makes them want to take action.

Francesa Harris from Angola said, “People don’t feel bad at all, which is kind of the worst thing about social media. They’re just behind the screen typing whatever, and they just log off and never think twice.”

Samantha Fishel said, “Especially with like girls and stuff, I feel like they’re a lot more likely to be mean, just because it’s not face-to-face, so it gives people more confidence then it would in person.”

If you’ve fallen victim to this social media “crime” know there are options.

But experts say you should know who is posting about you.

Bartholomew said, “If  you can’t find the anonymous poster, you’re kind of out of luck.”

If you’re posting something online, be careful of what kind of attention it might bring.

Bartholomew said, “you might attract the kind of post and response that could be upsetting, harmful or even defamatory.”

These days you can hire a service that can manage your social media life for you. Companies like “Reputation Defender” act as almost a crisis public relations for your social media profiles. But it will cost you. The service charges between hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.

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