If you’ve been the victim of defamation online, perhaps through a derogatory statement on social media, then you may need the services of a social media lawyer.

At Igniyte, we work with a partner law firm to ensure we can help with all aspects of Internet-related reputational damage. In this blog, we’ll go into what a social media lawyer does and how it all works.

Defining a social media lawyer

A social media lawyer is an attorney that represents clients in cases specifically related to the Internet.

Obviously, this is an area of law that crosses into others, including but not limited to, business, criminal, IP (Intellectual Property) and personal injury.

Clients are represented by the social media lawyer in whatever way suits their needs best. For example, some may want to settle a dispute through mediation and arbitration, while others will eventually need representation at trial.

Other duties that social media lawyers carry out include researching case law, communicating with clients about all legal ramifications, filing motions and drafting pleadings. Should it be necessary, these attorneys can also provide expert testimony during court proceedings.

When do you need a social media lawyer?

As online reputation management consultants, we see every day the impact of negative engagement and how it affects our clients.

Today’s world is ultra-connected and businesses have to exist both on and offline. And while connectivity has allowed for opportunities that could only be dreamt of 30 years ago, it also brings the danger of becoming a target for unfair, defamatory, unpleasant or illegal campaigns on social media.

While the obvious use of a social media lawyer is someone who has been the target of unfair defamatory statements that have been shared on social media for myriad purposes, the flipside is being accused of doing so unfairly.

Social media lawyers represent victims of actual defamatory statements and those who have been wrongly accused of spreading defamatory statements.

Either way, a social media lawyer helps to determine the subject’s legal options and informs them of how their rights can be protected and how to clean up their business reputation.

What about intellectual property and ownership of content?

As well know, the Internet in general and social media platforms in particular, offer immense opportunities for brands and businesses to improve their online visibility.

And, as many businesses prefer to focus on their product or service rather than the strategic skills necessary to effectively monetize social media, then they will often work with advisors, consultants and agencies.

Should these relationships break down – for instance, between a PR agency that has been handling social media marketing for a business and the business itself – then a dispute over content ownership could emerge?

The business owner may assume that the PR content is automatically their own IP. However, the actual creator of the content for social media platforms could have other ideas and stake their claim over social media accounts and the data held therein.

A social media lawyer or law firm will be able to collaborate across social media law, corporate, copyright and employment to ensure that their client’s IP is protected.

How to work with an Internet defamation lawyer

In the US, slander and libel are not protected by the First Amendment. And while freedom of speech is a big part of America’s cultural psyche, it may not feel so great if you are the victim of a character assassination attempt on social media.

Various words, posts, comments and use of social media go far beyond hurting the subject’s feelings. It’s not always about being emotionally triggered, but about the potential for deep psychological damage and loss of earnings that can occur.

An Internet defamation lawyer/social media lawyer can ascertain whether the defamation constitutes legal disparagement. If it does then there could be a case for a civil claim for a settlement.

This can only occur if the messages about the subject online can be proved to have been put there with the intent of costing the person business or to impede them from doing any of the following:

  1. Earning money through retail sales.
  2. Earning money from services.
  3. Raising revenue.
  4. Affecting the individual’s or associated company’s reputation in some way.

Under these circumstances, you will need a social media lawyer with experience in litigation and Internet defamation cases. It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to try and bring a case by yourself.

What does a good social media lawyer look like?

An effective social media lawyer will work closely with the client in order to fully address every aspect of the social media issues and craft high-level social media legislation.

Every business needs to have a social media policy internally that aims to gain employee trust and boost morale. This is another area where social media lawyers come into their own.

If a business chooses to create its own social media policy and strategy without legal involvement or advice, then they run the risk of both internal and external problems cropping up down the line.

Legislation connected with social media law in the US

Two US laws that are linked with social media law are the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the Communications Decency Act.

It’s worth knowing that the platform itself is likely to have stronger rights than its users. However, social media lawyers and those that specialize in IP law can help businesses that are finding their logos, brands or content (copyrighted only) are being used against them or by people who shouldn’t on social media.

Social media law is essentially a new and emerging sector of law. It has both civil and criminal implications and covers all kinds of user-generated property, the platforms that distribute it and the individuals posting it.

This sector of law raises all kinds of questions regarding IP, copyright, trade mark, advertising and defamation and, as such, is a broad sector that needs experienced attorneys on your side.

Social media lawyers should have a good grasp of new technology and a thorough grounding in social media litigation.

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