Being named in a social media lawsuit has become a common business risk for small businesses, but you can avoid such an incident if you’re educated about what could lead to a lawsuit and careful to toe the line. Here are some of the most frequent triggers for a social media lawsuit:

Licensing Issues

That image or video you saw online might seem just perfect for your latest social media ad campaign or even as a simple visual addition to an article or blog post you publish, but using images and videos without permission can land you in hot water. The same applies to music; if you or a social media marketer working for you creates video content or ads for social media, any music used as a soundtrack should be properly licensed.
The best way to protect yourself from this kind of lawsuit is to purchase subscriptions from reputable sites that have the right to license images, video, or music for commercial use, and ensure that everyone creating content for your social media sites only uses material procured from your licensed sources. In many cases, a “takedown notice” may be issued ahead of a lawsuit. By removing the licensed content immediately, you can often avoid a suit being brought against you.

Consumer Related Content

If a social media user were to mention your brand or “tag” you in a post of their own, you do not automatically have the right to use that person’s photo – even if they are an employee. This also applies to situations in which you may have taken phots in a public place. Make sure you secure written permission before using user generated content, especially if sharing the image on social media can be construed as having a commercial intent.
Bottom line: if your use of someone else’s image or words can be seen as a way for your business to profit, you could conceivably be sued by the third party for perceived damages. Again, a takedown notice may alert you to your social media gaffe and give you time to rectify the matter before a lawsuit is filed.

Reputational Harm

Defamation using the written word is libel (defamation using the spoken word is slander). Social media counts as written words, and if you badmouth a person or an organization on social media, a lawsuit may be filed against you. This is the most likely instance in which a lawsuit may be filed without a chance to remedy the situation by content removal.

What to do if a Lawsuit is Filed

The best course of action is to seek legal counsel immediately, and not to respond personally to the accusation on the social media platform or elsewhere. Your attorney can advise you as to the best course of action, and hopefully find a way to mitigate the damage. If the person filing the suit can prove financial loss, reputational harm, or both, you may wish to swiftly act to outline your defense and request a summary judgement.
General or professional liability insurance may be able to help protect you in the event of a lawsuit, but the best course of action is to avoid lawsuits in the first place by carefully considering everything your company does on social media and avoiding perilous situations. If your business is the target of a social media lawsuit, swift and transparent action is the best option. Having a competent attorney on your side can help smooth the way to a speedy resolution.