Social media is an effective way to quickly spread our message widely, but it also poses certain risks. Because it is an easy way to communicate, we run the risk of being thoughtless or careless with our postings. Sometimes we get lazy and re-post someone else’s content without researching whether the information is true. And, sometimes, we get so mad or excited about something that we post it before we take a moment to think about it.
Some of the possible repercussions of posting without fully considering what we are doing are: discipline from our employers for unprotected statements and actions; civil, criminal, or other forms of liability; or getting involved in litigation which is not only a waste of our time and resources, but also an unpleasant experience.
Once something is posted to a social media site, it is virtually impossible to control who sees it or retract it. It is likely that your employer will see the posting. The people mentioned or pictured in the post will also likely see it. And if they see it, then they can consider whether they should take any of the actions described above. Let’s not give them anything they can use against us. We can both minimize any risks and continue to use social media to our benefit by always considering both the content and context of our posts. Specifically, consider the following:
- Is the post true? Truth is a defense against defamation but you should still consider whether you are stating the truth in an exaggerated way—should you tone it down to cut down on the risk of getting sued? Are you stating something that was true in the past—for example, the employed had safety issues and there were a lot of accidents last year—as if it is something that is still true now (maybe the employer has since improved its safety record)? Are you stating your opinionas if it were truth? (Your opinion is not a fact! Clarify that it is your opinion!)
- Are you making an allegation or accusation? If so, are you clearly stating that it is an allegation or accusation? Is the allegation based on your personal knowledge or a rumor? Is there a better way to make the same statement? For example, it’s safer to say, “The Union alleges that the Company has committed unfair labor practices,” than “The Company committed unfair labor practices.”
- Is the context of a labor dispute clear? By clearly stating that a potentially problematic statement is related to a strike, lockout, or terms and conditions of employment, we protect ourselves from potential lawsuits. And, the labor dispute is probably one of the reasons why we are posting in the first place, so making the context clear also helps spread our message and inform people about what’s going on.
- Have you considered the overall context of your post? Even if we make it clear that a post is in the context of a labor dispute and related to terms and conditions of employment, it’s still possible to make statements that are so disloyal to or disparaging of our employer that they won’t be protected under the law. For example, maybe you think all the managers are “rats” because of the way they treat the union. But, if you work for a hospital, you shouldn’t post “This place is full of rats!” because others may not understand the context. People don’t go to rat-infested hospitals, so the hospital’s reputation may suffer. Instead, it would be better to say, “All the managers are rats: they don’t respect our contract or our union!” That way, nobody thinks there are actual rats running around the hospital.
- Have you thought about the content of any photos or videos before posting? In spite of our best efforts and intentions, occasionally a member gets overzealous on a picket line. We should not post photos or videos of picket line misconduct: it can be used later to help support an injunction against the union or discipline the employee.
- Are you harassing or threatening anyone? How about making discriminatory comments? Do not post any material or comments that harass or threaten others, including replacement workers who take our jobs while we are on strike or locked out. The same goes for content that is racist, sexist, or discriminatory in any other way—including derogatory comments about non-members. Statements like these do not help gain the support of others and they expose us to liability.
- Are you posting private information? Public disclosure of private information can result in lawsuits. Lawsuits are very expensive headaches. Even if you are releasing information about a public figure, if the information is highly offensive and not of legitimate concern to the public, then you may be violating the law. The safest thing to do is not post that information at all. And we should never post trade secrets.
- Are you using copyrighted material? If so, do you have the copyright owner’s permission? If you don’t have permission to use the copyright, make sure you are not using the material for commercial use; you limit the use of the material to only what is strictly necessary to convey your message; your message is limited to facts; and your use of the material does not diminish the value of the original work.
- Are you using trademarked material, such as a logo or name? Do you have permission to use it? (You have permission to use the USW logos as described in our Graphics Standards and Style Guide.) If not, limit your use of the trademarked material to commentary or reporting that is noncommercial. Make sure people won’t be confused into thinking that we are claiming some kind of association, connection, or sponsorship between the trademarked material and the union.
- Considering these issues before we post to social media will help us publicize our strikes, lockouts, and contract disputes and gain support from others, while also helping to minimize any potential consequences. If you want to post something and aren’t sure whether it is risky, ask your staff representative before posting.