Tweet at your peril!

Many of you will be aware of the recent case concerning the wrongful accusations made against Conservative peer Lord McAlpine on the Internet. This case has shone a whole new light on the question of “What is appropriate behaviour when using Social Media?”.

Until recently, it seemed that the users of some social networks such as Twitter and Facebook still thought that the things they said online were hidden away, and therefore out of the jurisdiction of the law.

A lot of the problem stems from the newness of the medium, and the increasing number of users on the various services. Many people using Social Media still don’t fully understand how to behave on it and naively post comments without taking a moment to consider the possible implications arising from what they have said.

If you use Social Media you must remember that what you say is being published instantly worldwide. Once you press send, those words and pictures can become public for all to see.

Most lay individuals have a total lack of knowledge in relation to the Law on libel, and this point was put into sharp focus by the collaring of many famous names in the McAlpine case.

I have also found that there is now a growing number of employers considering whether their employees comments on Social Media concerning their employer, their work colleagues or their place of work can be considered to be a ground for Gross Misconduct. In situations where this is the case, throwaway comments made in the heat of the moment, may well lead to a subsequent dismissal.

This is however a grey area which can be made much clearer by employers having clear Social Media policies within their employee handbooks. A clear policy will set out guidance for an employee’s use of Social Media and determine what is both appropriate and acceptable behaviour. I regularly draft such policies and will be happy to review the effectiveness of your business’ current handbook documentation.

The most important thing when using Social Media is to ‘think before you post’ as the implications of what you say could result in a Court case or you losing your job.