A whopping 81 percent of Americans have a social media account. And while social media, like Facebook and Twitter, brings a lot of fun, laughs and connection in our lives, it also opened up a vast new area of law where the rules aren’t always clear and defined.
Although social media can be tricky even for a savvy adult, teens can get into even more trouble. For kids who have grown up with cell phone in hand, social media and the internet often feel safer than they are. Combine that with fewer inhibitions and an inability to predict unpleasant consequences and you get a recipe for lots of trouble, including legal trouble.
Here are five scenarios kids and adults need to watch out for when it comes to legal trouble on social media:
These days, businesses thrive on online reviews. Reviews can make or break a business, so businesses take them very seriously. Legal cases have arisen where a business is suffering from a fake negative review that someone posted out of spite or competition, as well as business owners who have gone after individuals who left a valid, but negative review of their company online claiming defamation. If you left a negative review of a business and they are threatening you, as long as your review was written with valid facts and opinions, a business doesn’t have a defamation case.
Whether you’re a business owner pursuing a reviewer or an average citizen getting threatened by a business for your review, talk to a lawyer. The laws surrounding defamation were written for a print world which is trying to catch up to a digital reality. Things are constantly evolving and changing, so find a lawyer who specializes in this issue to get some clarity.
Threats and Bullying
A lot of people assume that communication over the internet and social media is private and end up saying or sending things they shouldn’t. Adults and kids need to realize that there’s no such thing as privacy on the internet, even if something is sent in a private message or email. Once a message is sent, you can’t control what happens to it.
So if an argument or conversation got out of control and you ended up making a threat, that could cause you legal trouble if the person you sent it to takes it to the police. This area of law is especially big when it comes to kids, who have used social media to bully and harass their school mates. Judges and courts are trying to understand and interpret the laws in these areas in real time with each case and situations need to be taken very seriously.
Personal Images and Revenge Porn
More than half of adults admit to “sexting” – sending nude pictures or video of sexual acts via a smartphone or social media. It’s incredibly common among today’s teens and can lead to some serious legal trouble.
Many people send images to someone they’re in a relationship with, not thinking about what could happen when that relationship is over. “Revenge porn” is often the result – a jilted lover posting compromising images online or even directly sending it to their ex’s friends, family, bosses and co-workers. It’s a growing problem and one where the law is trying to catch up. Texas passed an anti-revenge porn law in 2015, but the law is relatively weak – only a misdemeanor.
Instead, lawyers have been successful removing consenting adult images by claiming copyright infringement with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Doing so has nothing to do with what is in the picture, only that the rights to the picture belong to the client. It’s an odd, but surprisingly successful, way to pursue these cases to get justice for a client.
Teens, Sexting and Child Pornography
When it comes to kids and teens, the legal consequences can be even more severe. Consider this surprisingly common scenario: a young woman sends her boyfriend a nude picture of herself, and her boyfriend shares that image with his best friend. Since his girlfriend is under 18, he’s now guilty of distributing child pornography, a reality that many parents and teens are shocked to discover.
Obviously, child pornography is an incredibly serious crime, and the situation is far reaching – it’s a crime for someone to take the picture, to have the picture on their phone or to even have seen the picture. Kids are getting prosecuted for this and reaping the consequences of being registered as a sex offender for a lifetime. If your child is involved in this kind of situation, contact a lawyer immediately.
Social Media Scams
Just as in every other area of life, scammers are on social media, looking for any angle to steal people’s money. Take, for example, a very common “catphishing” scam: Someone poses as a girl who is 21 and asks to exchange pictures. The person who receives the pictures immediately gets a call from someone claiming to be a parent or a cop, saying the girl is underage and demanding money, often for counseling or buying a new phone.
When you’re online and exchanging information with anyone you don’t know in real life, take extra precautions. Everyone is not who they say they are on the internet, and forgetting that could cost you.
In Social Media Trouble? Contact a Lawyer Immediately
If you find yourself or one of your kids in the above scenarios or any other kinds of trouble involving the internet or social media, it’s crucial to contact a lawyer right away. Even if a mistake has been made, a lawyer can intervene before the situation gets out of hand, but the longer you wait, the more difficult it becomes.
It’s also important to find someone who specializes in social media and internet law because this area of the law is rapidly changing and evolving. A lot of very experienced lawyers have little knowledge about the internet, and old techniques don’t work.
Texas Legal members can get help for internet-related legal trouble through their general legal services benefit, and that coverage extends to your children if they’re listed on your family plan. Don’t wait – find out how a lawyer can help you today with our online Attorney Finder.