As social media usage continues to become more and more ingrained into our everyday lives and conversational activities, it is increasingly difficult to distinguish between opinion and libellous talk. So how do you know where the boundaries lie?

The definition of freedom of speech is “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and to seek, receive and impart information through any media and regardless of frontiers”.  But should we all have freedom of speech when it comes to social media?

Recent high profile cases over the use of Twitter to disclose information buried beneath super-injunctions has led to libel cases. Lord McAlpine’s high profile case demonstrates how the forwarding of someone else’s comments will also leave a case to answer.  It seems that every week there is a new scandal involving a rogue footballers ‘innocent’ tweet.

We all recognise the importance of effective social media in business but at the root of every social media post and every comment is an individual one. Yet once the send button is pressed, the comment is out there in the public domain and available for scrutiny.

A recent study by a social media monitoring service Reppler, found that more than 90% of recruiters visit a potential candidate’s social media profile as part of the screening process. 69% of recruiters have rejected a candidate based on content found on his or her social networking profiles.  Social media users be warned.

The fall-out from Lord McAlpine’s case should make more social media users think before they comment, but when hidden behind the veil of a business or brand, will diligence still apply? As we have seen, it’s not just the originator of the comment that faces prosecution, everyone who forwards or re-tweets a comment made by someone else will be judged as though they made the comment themselves.

Having a social media policy is a business must-have. Social media training for businesses should also be standard, particularly where multiple parties are making comments and engaging with others; posts whether tweets, status updates or comments represent the organisations views. Business owners should embrace the opportunities that social media provides whilst properly understanding the pitfalls it can present. After the event is too late, the damage has been done. Social media may represent free speech but unlike a live address, it’s not always the speaker that is held accountable!

Time will tell how social accountability will progress and no doubt legal cases will change the shape of the social media landscape. After all, it is just one channel of communication and like all forms of marketing needs to be planned, thought-out and be goal driven.

Ascensor are Website Design and Digital Marketing specialists, offering Social Media Training.

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