Social media can be a great tool to promote social change.
Nonprofits are taking advantage of such tools to advance their mission. However, social media can pose some risks if not used properly. You should develop a policy that employees can use when making decisions about posting on social media. These tips are intended to get you started on a solid policy.
Ask Employees to Think Before Posting Anything Online
Even if you use a pseudonym online, there are ways that the public, including reporters, can discover who you are. Perhaps even more important, information posted on social media, such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, can also be used as evidence in legal proceedings. Even deleted items can be recovered and cause problems. Remember that any data posted online is not only available worldwide; it can potentially “live” forever. Even when privacy settings are restricted or a page is password-protected, there are still ways to retrieve data using cyber forensic tools. There is really no such thing as “deleted” information.
Your Employees’ Actions Can Be Held Against Your Organization
Under the legal doctrine of respondeat superior, employers can be held liable for the activities of employees. In social media, the line between one’s personal life and professional life is becoming
increasingly blurred. This ambiguity increases the risk of an organization being held liable for the posts of its employees.Many employees of advocacy groups are passionate about their work, so they naturally speak out publicly on issues relating to their field. If an employee posts an offending statement against another organization on Facebook or another social network, the statement could be attributed to the employer, even if the employee posted on his or her own personal account.
Nonprofits can minimize risk by requiring employees to distinguish their personal posts and blogs from the
employer. Consider a policy requiring employees to post a disclaimer on their Facebook page if the their personal page could relate to the work of your nonprofit. These disclaimers do not absolutely protect an employer from liability, but they are a factor to be considered when determining liability. Another helpful
policy is one that prohibits employees from using the company logo on a personal social media page.
Online Activity Can Lead to 'Real World' Consequences
Social media posts are subject to real-world laws. While social media may seem like a casual platform, it can lead to real life problems and legal issues if you do not offer your employees a clear use policy.
Below are some examples of legal issues arising from social media.
Intellectual Property (IP): Nonpro-fits typically have two main types of IP: Trademarks and copyright. Trademarks are words or designs that identify the source of a particular product or service.
Copyrighted works may include websites, books, reports, videos, music, photos, etc. One way to avoid IP concerns is to prohibit the use of your company’s logo by employees unless it is expressly authorized for a work event.
Hostile Work Environment, Harassment and Discrimination Claims: While most employers recognize that they have a duty to maintain a workplace free of illegal harassment, they often don’t realize that they may face liability when employees use social media to make discriminatory statements, racial slurs or sexual innuendos directed at co-workers.
Political Activities: 501(c)(3) organizations are prohibited from engaging in any political campaign or any candidate for elective public office. Violating this prohibition may result in excise taxes and
possibly even revocation of tax-exempt status. Organizations can violate this rule if their employees speak out in favor of or in opposition to political candidates through social media and their statements are
attributed to the organization.
Organization’s Accounts Are Only For Business Use
Employees’ use of personal social media accounts for official organizational business can not only cause confusion between employees’ professional and personal online identities, it can also create problems when employees leave the organization. For instance, the organization can lose valuable history, content and contacts if it can no longer access accounts used by a former employee. To minimize potential concerns, require employees to conduct official business only through the organization’s social media accounts.
Keeping these tips in mind will be helpful to your nonprofit as you draft your social media policy for employees. Remember that policies are not static.
Particularly in the ever-changing world of social media, your policy should be reviewed and updated frequently. Also, remember to include your policy and any updates or changes in employee orientation and trainings.