Navigating the Sometimes Cloudy Social Media Waters
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Before we delve into the potential hazards of social media, let's begin somewhere else. Somewhere more primeval, somewhere where lessons are universal and equally applicable to the issue of social media: the Ganges River.
The Ganges is a sacred river running through the most populated river basin in the world from the Himalayas through India and Bangldesh* The Ganges is the life-blood of the region and the center of social life and commerce. Sound familiar?
Interestingly, the Ganges is also home to Varanasi, the "Great Cremation Ground." Those who are lucky enough to die in Varanasi are cremated on the banks of the Ganges and are granted instant salvation. If the death has occurred elsewhere, salvation can be achieved by immersing the ashes in the Ganges.
However, while the Ganges provides a center for commerce and social life, it also suffers from extreme pollution levels. Sewage from many cities along the river's course, industrial waste and less-than-fully cremated remains add large amounts of pollutants to the river as it flows through densely populated areas.
The intenet is much like the Ganges: The flow of information is both a blessing and a curse. If you understand what you are getting into and protect yourself and your business, it can be a wonderful tool. But if you wade too deep without taking the proper precautions, you could end up swallowing water laced with cremated remains and diphtheria, or being sued, depending on which side of the analogy you are on.
So, how do you protect yourself from a river of information fraught with opportunity and danger? Here are a few tips you can use to protect yourself.
Five O'Clock News Theory
This one is simple: Don't do anything you don't want on the 5 o'clock news. The internet often provides the illusion of privacy. But don't be fooled. Anything put on the World Wide Web can be found by someone looking to find it. In addition, plaintiffs' attorneys are using internet searches of Twitter, Facebook and social media sites to find dirt on those they are looking to sue.
The Internet is Written in Ink, not Pencil
Just because you think you deleted something off the internet doesn't mean it is gone. Almost everything you've ever posted online is discoverable through Google. If you don't believe me, go to Google and search your name, then mouse over the cursor to the right and click on the word "cached." Google keeps older versions of webpages cached on its servers and allows access to anyone who looks. Scary, huh?
In addition to the dangers of saying stupid things that might get out in public, you need to make sure to not talk about pricing or competitive issues. This could really get you in trouble.
Employment Law Issues
Another consideration that needs to be made is employment law issues. While your employees have a right to free speech, they must live with the repercussions. If you have employees who are posting things that are creating a bad image that reflects poorly on your business, you need to act. The best idea is to have a written policy in place before you run into such a situation. However, this is a very fluid and constantly changing area of the law, and I would recommend you consult with counsel before you act.
Remember, when in doubt, don't post something. You can use the internet to your advantage to help grow and build your business, as long as you take the proper precautions. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to call me at 713.951.1174.
In addition to his decade of representing funeral homes, crematories and cemeteries internationally in all manner of legal functions, Chris Farmer has also handled dozens of regulatory investigations from employment and wage and hour investigations to funeral board complaints to fatalities by regulatory agencies ranging from state funeral boards to OSHA and the Department of Labor. Farmer represents clients as Of Counsel for Sheehy, Ware & Pappas, P.C. and is also General Counsel for the Texas Funeral Directors Association and Cremation Association of North America. In these roles, he counsels, represents and educates members about various legal issues including professional liability, general liability, insurance, business and employment matters and pay practices. Farmer may be reached at 713.951.1174, firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @DeathCareLawGuy.