Your SM medium can affect your legal risk

By MARK PEARSON

[Adapted from my new book  – Blogging and Tweeting Without Getting Sued: A global guide to the law for anyone writing online (Allen & Unwin, 2012).]

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Your method and your medium can be important factors in your legal exposure. The simple fact is that some publishing platforms are more law-friendly than others. Sometimes this will depend on the type of material you are publishing. For example, there is an argument that Twitter users may be less prone to copyright infringement because the very nature of the medium limits the amount of another person’s work they can borrow and the retweeting function implies that everyone expects their work to be recycled by others.

However, on Twitter you may leave yourself more exposed in the area of defamation because there is so little space for you to give context and balance to your criticism of others. Longer, better argued critiques lend themselves to some of the fair comment defences in many countries.

Tweeting from an event as it unfolds, such as a conference or a court case, has its dangers because your tweets might contain errors in the quotes of others or might be taken out of context by someone just reading a single tweet rather than the overall coverage. And of course you tweet with the full expectation that your work will be spread far and wide, meaning any libellous material can cause considerable damage.

Publication on Facebook, however, might be restricted to just a few friends, particularly if your privacy settings are adjusted so that your comments are not viewable to the friends of your friends.

Remember, if someone reposts your work they are the ones republishing it, so they would in turn be liable. (A court may, of course, factor in to a damages claim the extent that you might have expected your material to be retweeted or reposted by others.)

The open blog has a potentially wide distribution network, but it also has quite cautious controls available to you when you use a host like WordPress. You should take advantage of opportunities to save drafts and proof-read your material in preview mode before proceeding to publication. Careful checking pre-publication can help you find accidental spelling mistakes and remind you of extra fact-checking you will need to carry out before pressing that magic ‘Send’ button.

If you have written your blog fairly and accurately it can go a long way to establishing a defence to defamation. Blogging is also about writing quality, so your mastery of the language and your selection of the most appropriate words can be crucial when defending a libel allegation if you have written a scathing review of a public event or performance.

You might take a moment to look over some of your recent blogs, tweets and Facebook postings. How well do they shape up?

And who is that trying to foist a legal document at you as your step out your front door? ;-)

© Mark Pearson 2012

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

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