Do not publish anything on social media if you are not willing to see it on a billboard next to a busy highway.
Doing the “billboard test” when engaging with social media is sound advice from Emma Sadleir, a leading expert on social media law and founder of the Digital Law Company, which advises institutions and groups on the risks and legal consequences of social media.
“Digital content is dangerous content,” she warned during a webinar that the NWU Business School hosted on 26 November 2020.
“As soon as something is digital, it is out of your control – it spreads very fast and very far.” She calls it the tattoo effect – if something is out there, it is very difficult to retract or contain.
When others are in control of your information
Emma points out that even if you delete information shortly after posting it, people might have taken screen shots just before you pressed the delete button, and then you cannot control what they do with them.
“This is why it is so important to take a moment to think what you want to say before you publish anything,” she says.
She recommends that you google yourself to find out what information about yourself can be found on the internet.
“Remember, nothing is really free. For big companies such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram it is about money – they are not charities. Some of them may, for instance, use your profile photo should they want to, depending on the terms of service and the amount of privacy you have on your social media profiles. When you put yourselves in their hands, you are very vulnerable.”
Emma advises that we all watch The Social Dilemma. In this documentary by Jeff Orlowski, ex-employees of major social media platforms talk about how social media has affected the world.
Your right to privacy is not an open and shut case
According to the law, everyone has a right to privacy. But it also depends on circumstances – for instance when you are on a stage, giving a presentation, you have a lower expectation of privacy than the person sitting in the audience. The same goes for people who are practically living on social media, posting every few hours, compared to someone who almost never uses social platforms, says Emma.
She gives another example of a mother who covers her children’s faces when posting their pictures on social media. These children have a higher expectation of privacy than children whose parents have created a dedicated Facebook page for them right after their birth.
“Use your privacy settings when you post photos of your children on social media,” she suggests. “The more you look after your own and their privacy, the more privacy you have.”
Another instance where your right to privacy is compromised, is when you break the law.
“When you do or say something illegal, your right to privacy flies out the window,” says Emma. When someone posts a video of a person attacking his or her spouse in the bedroom, for instance, there cannot be an expectation of privacy.
Bringing your company’s name into disrepute
Bringing your company’s name into disrepute by what you post on social media can land you in hot water and even get you fired.
It does not even have to be work-related. If you publish – or even like or share – a racist or sexist joke online it is bad for your company. The like, share or reposting is directly associated with you and the company you work for.
“It is also about not biting the hand that feeds you,” Emma says. Do not bad-mouth or say things that are not in the best interest of your employer. What’s more: this is also about implicating your company in an indirect way. For example, when you attack a bank on social media, and that bank is an important client of your company, your employer might take action against you.
It is equally important not to bring your profession into disrepute. For example, do not insult another auditing firm if you are working for an auditing firm yourself.
Do not get caught up in the chain of publication
Emma warns that if you are part of the chain of publication, you are also legally responsible for the content being published.
In other words, do not share or like a post that might be illegal or defamatory. Even making it clear that you find the post horrible while you share it, will not save your hide.
By liking a post, you show that you associate with it, making you responsible for that content. “If someone posts something defamatory or illegal on your Facebook page, you are obligated by law to delete it,” says Emma.
This is also applicable to WhatsApp groups. “If the group publishes anything defamatory, you have to indicate that you don’t agree with it or leave the group.” She recommends that there should be distinct content guidelines for every WhatsApp group.
What is evident from Emma’s presentation is that social media can be a mine field and that we should all tread lightly. The best thing to do to escape possible “landmines” is to do the billboard test before posting anything anywhere on the internet.