7 Ways Using Twitter Can Leave You In Need Of A Lawyer

  • 1
  • November 11, 2015

Twitter is my favorite social media platform. It’s so powerful, and is a never ending stream of information, knowledge, and memes.

People share everything on Twitter – from their favorite blogs to how they feel about the Packers’ loss (happy, by the way!). And it’s all done in just one sentence. 140 characters or less, to be exact.

Did you know that even one sentence when broadcasted on a place like Twitter can leave you in desperate need of a lawyer?

I have been researching this subject for a while now.

I’m not a lawyer – it just fascinates me. This post should not be considered as legal advice, but I do recommend that you take note of what I call “The 7 most common ‘Twitfalls’”. (That’s Twitter + pitfall, by the way. Cute, right? I know. Anyway, let’s get started!)

Copyright Infringement

1. Sharing An Image You Have Not Paid For

I’m sure you’ve heard that using photos on Twitter is the easiest way to drive clicks and engagement up.

But the photos you choose to share on your Twitter account can get you into big, expensive troubles – if you’re not cautious.

Recent statistics show that over 85% of the photos used online are subject to copyright infringement.

If you use someone else’s photos online without permission, the owner can sue you and demand a statutory damages award in a sum of $750-$30,000 – without proving any damages.

So next time you see a pretty photo on Google images, ask yourself: “Is using this for Twitter worth a $30,000 penalty?”

With so many free or cheap resources for licensed photography, you really have no excuses for stealing images.

My personal favorite resources include:

  • UnSplash – free high-resolution photography for any commercial use

  • Canva – stock photography starting at $1 per photo.

  • DepositPhotos – my go-to stock photography website.

Twitter Content Palgiarism

2. Stealing Someone Else’s Content

I have a good friend who runs an Instagram account with over 130K followers. He shares inspiring quotes laid over beautiful graphics.

Not a day goes by where I don’t see someone who takes a snapshot of my friend’s posts, removes their logo, and shares it on Twitter as their own.

Re-sharing information is a right protected by the first amendment. But, presenting other people’s content as your own and using it for your own benefit… that’s a right no one has.

So my friend can (and should) sue those who steal his work. But it doesn’t end there.

Being a law-abiding citizen, my friend pays a hefty sum each month to license the graphics he uses. If someone steals his work and alters it (removing the logo, for example) – it becomes separate from the original “project” it was licensed for.

Which means that not only my friend’s rights have been infringed, but so were the rights of the original photographer who made the art. This can get expensive extremely fast, especially if that’s your daily habit.

Solution? If in doubt, it’s always better to retweet and give full credit to the source.

DIsclosure form on typewriter

3. Failing To Disclose Affiliate Links / Paid Endorsements

Sharing the resources and products that you use everyday with others is part of what makes Twitter great. But when you’re compensated for some of those tweets (like when sharing affiliate links), you must tread carefully.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires that you disclose whenever you’re compensated for your tweets.

The FTC isn’t picky about how you disclose. Adding the word “Sponsored”, “Promotion”, “Paid ad”, or even just “#ad” are all acceptable to the FTC.

The cost of endorsing a product without proper disclosure can include all the revenue made from the advertisement, and sometimes more.

Is it worth it to lose all the income from a promotion, and undergo an FTC investigation, just because you didn’t disclose your promotion properly? Probably not.

4. Implying Someone Else’s Endorsement

Let’s say your product is a premium WordPress plugin. One day, a famous blogger buys your plugin and maybe even tweets about it.

What a great marketing opportunity, right? You want to tell the entire world about it! But beware:

Retweeting is fine. Writing your own tweet, telling the world who bought your product, and hash-tagging yourself… might not be.

Just because a celebrity bought your product doesn’t mean they endorse it. And if you go ahead and imply that they do, it’s considered false-marketing.

The FTC doesn’t like false-marketing. Neither do celebrities. Just ask the CEO of ‘Duane Reade’ who tried to pull off a similar stunt when Katherine Heigl visited their store.

Next time avoid the commentary and just retweet!

Fact Checking On Twitter

5. Not Checking Your Sources

Any time you maliciously publish facts that you know are false about an individual, celebrity, brand, organization, government, or nation – you’re putting a huge target on your back for a defamation lawsuit.

That’s obvious.

But what if you publish something about a private individual that you thought was true, and it turned out to be false?

This could be a cause for a defamation lawsuit. In which case you’ll need to prove that you took all reasonable measures to verify the facts prior to sharing them with the world.

If you’re going to share some information that could potentially affect someone else’s status in a negative way – make sure you get your facts straight first.

6. Sharing Your Opinions (Without Being Cautious)

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. After all, unlike facts, opinions cannot be falsified. You may think anything you want about anyone, and no one can sue you for it.

There’s a line between thinking and saying things out loud, though.

Most people believe that as long as they use the magic words, “in my opinion”, they’re safe. Freedom of speech and privilege of opinion will protect them. Not so!

For example: Saying, “He is a liar” about someone who’s not a liar is a false assertion and can get you in trouble. But did you know that even if you say, “It is my opinion he is a liar” – that statement still remains a false assertion in the eyes of the law?

So you need to be cautious. If you have an opinion that’s not based on verifiable facts, don’t present it as if there are facts behind it.

The easier option? Do what my mom always told me when I was growing up: “If you have nothing nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all!”. Thanks, mom!

Trademark Infringment

7. Infringing Trademarks

Trademarks protect product owners from copycats who try to steal customers by creating products that look very similar.

If your logo, product name, or even Twitter username resembles a trademark, you’re setting yourself up for trouble.

Note that it doesn’t need to be 100% identical to cause infringement. If your Twitter username or logo is similar enough that there’s a chance the average customer would be confused – you’re infringing the trademark.

Note: Even using a competitor’s hashtag to promote yourself can be seen as a trademark infringement.

The Bottom Line

It’s easy to put something on Twitter that will leave you needing a lawyer. But it’s even easier to avoid it.

Follow your common sense, respect others, don’t steal or cheat – and you should be fine :)

Now back to you: what’s your take on companies suing over tweets? Where does freedom of speech end, and liability start? Leave your comments below!

Author Meron Bareket

Hi, I’m Meron. During the last two years I’ve helped hundreds of professionals, business owners, and entrepreneurs get more exposure, build an audience, and create an income online. Want to know how? Check out Podcast Empire, or email me at [email protected] 

More posts by Meron Bareket

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