social media

Social media and reputation management have become major parts of advertising for some businesses. It has become so important that some companies even have rules for how their employees should deal with social media. Some even have a legal aide attached to their marketing department to deal with any libel issues that may pop up. Because a company is only as good as its reputation, this can make for a busy lawyer, who must constantly decide between whether or not a post is libelous, and therefore can be acted upon, or if it is well within the person’s right to free speech. This can make for some interesting conversations in an era of blogs and trolls.

In general, it is the trolls that make life interesting for a business lawyer. A troll purposely attacks someone online hoping to make them mad, and the madder that they get the person the better. In order to accomplish that goal, a troll is willing to say just about anything to get a rise from someone, and that includes libel. For corporate lawyers who are constantly sifting the Internet in order to ensure that their clients are protected, this can become a major hassle, especially if the troll has a particular axe to grind.

 Fair Use Act

The problem is that a lot of speech online is protected speech; that is, a person can say virtually anything online as it considered “published material”. Complicating the issue is that not everyone understands the provisions under the Fair Use Act, and will cop to “parody” if they get caught. Most lawyers stop with a basic cease and desist order with no follow-up; only if the troll is really obnoxious will they follow-up with anything stronger. Usually that follow-up is limited to contacting the administrators of the site, which can result in the person being banned or protected, depending on the individual site. Another disincentive is that the troll may be emboldened and gain some notoriety, making him harder to deal with.

Some lawyers are loathe to deal with discussion boards, especially as they are usually headquartered in a different part of the country or even other countries. However, they are more than willing to sue if the troll has overstepped some boundary that the lawyers find unacceptable, such as false accident claims or involving their client in illegal and immoral activity, especially if they are being serious about it. If the site is especially popular and in the field that the company specializes in. Ultimately, while few such suits are rarely filed, when they are the company usually wins, making the effort worth it.