To post or not to post?

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Nowadays almost everyone is online. With social platforms ranging from Pinterest and Facebook to Twitter and Instagram, there are many digital ways to reach out to the world. But one must tread lightly in their online travels. Legal pitfalls are as common as potholes on Montreal streets. There are plenty of horror stories of people’s interaction with social media from Facebook profile pictures being used in penis enlargement ads to being sued for defamation. So to better help understand what happens when you hit “post”, here are some things to be aware of:

  1. You own what you post on Facebook. However, when you post on Facebook or other social-media platforms, you give them the right to use your content – as stated in their end-user agreement – “you grant us non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post.” Even if you delete the content, if others have already shared the post they must also delete it in order to end the license. So be aware that once you post something online, you might never be able to take it down.
  2. Libel, the publication on any public platform of demonstrably false information with a clear disregard for the truth that causes damage to someone’s reputation, including corporations, can have devastating legal consequences. Even when discussing things in private through any online messaging system, if it can be proven that it was shown to a third party then it constitutes libel. Although libel suits do not get thrown around too often, you must be absolutely sure that any reputation-damaging information you post is true.
  3. Online harassment and bullying can get land you in jail. Many recent high-profile examples of online bullying that ended with young people committing suicide have led authorities to implement severe legal punishment for perpetrators. Everything you post online or message is saved in internal servers and can be brought into court as evidence. The best way to avoid this is to respect someone’s request to leave him or her alone. Someone who feels victimized by your words can now more easily present them as criminal harassment. When you post online, they are permanent and irrefutable, unlike a face-to-face conversation.
  4. The breaching of contracts is another way for you to get into trouble online. What you post is out there for everyone to see. So if you’re posting something about your workplace, make sure that you are not posting information that is sensitive to its function or you might find yourself facing a breach of contract and the resulting consequences. In other words, you could be fired, or worse.
  5. Hate speech is a tough nut to crack since it is a murky area of the law thanks to the constitutional guarantee to freedom of speech. Most hate speech gets dealt with internally as other users report it and the post gets deleted. However, if you have a wide enough following and the figurative cat is out of the bag, then you may find yourself in a lot more trouble.

A good rule of thumb before posting is to ask yourself: “Would I want everyone I know and their acquaintances to see this post?” In the end, you have the freedom to post whatever thoughts cross your mind. But you will have to face the consequences following the posting. Think of those New Year’s Eve parties you just attended: they probably offered lots of opportunities to post embarrassing material on the Internet that you never wanted or thought was being documented. The tricky part is getting those posts removed.

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