Book club: Blogging & Tweeting Without Getting Sued

Ongoing learning and development is a big part of the culture at Recognition PR, Outsource and Write Away Communication + Events. One of the ways to engage in this is through our regular team book club sessions.

Our recent book club was Blogging & Tweeting Without Getting Sued, by Professor Mark Pearson.

The book was easy to read, with practical advice and it served as a reminder that every time a social media user or blogger hits the ‘send’ button, they become a publisher. This means they are subject to the legislation of various countries, not just Australia.

Of course we all know that social media posts are not the same as having a conversation with a few friends in private. What many people may not realise is that each time they share or re-tweet something that contravenes a law, they become another publisher of that material and are just as liable as the original publisher.

The author, Mark Pearson, was our guest for the book club and he answered our questions as well as entertaining us with his stories about how the book came about.

This book is helpful for people who tweet, blog and post to understand their rights, responsibilities and risks in an age where everything we post stays online and is always searchable.

Some of the particularly interesting points we discussed during the book club included:

  • When it comes to shield laws how is it determined who is a blogger and who is a journalist?
  • If you are stating an opinion, for example reviewing a product, are you protected from being sued for defamation?

Five key points to remember when using social media

  1. When you hit ‘send’ or ‘publish’ you become a publisher and are legally responsible for the content in every country in which it is downloaded. This could mean you face legal sanctions in other countries. This may be a concern if you intend to travel to those countries in the future
  2. Consider the damage your comments could do to other people already in the region if you are commenting about a legal or political issue. If someone is facing legal proceedings in another country, then your comments about it on social media have the potential to make their situation worse
  3. If you share or re-tweet something that someone else has written, you become a publisher of their content. You can be held liable if something in that content breaches laws. This can catch people out when they read the first part of a post and share it, without reviewing and understanding all of the content in the post – including links. It is vital to read everything before putting your name on it.
  4. Don’t post anything online if you wouldn’t be happy to see it on the evening news with your name attached
  5. Just because something isn’t technically illegal doesn’t mean you should post it. Consider common sense ethics and morality before posting. Take a deep breath before responding to criticism online.

Blogging & Tweeting Without Getting Sued by Mark Pearson is available from Allen & Unwin

Mark Pearson is a professor of journalism at Griffith University and co-author of The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law. He is a correspondent for Reports Without Borders and has been published in the Wall Street Journal, the Far Eastern Economic Review and The Australian. Follow him at @journlaw.

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