How to avoid getting into legal trouble with your content as a business owner
Episode 15218th May 2022 • Courageous Content with Janet Murray • Janet Murray
00:00:00 00:15:43

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I’ve dealt with a number of issues recently - both professionally and as a volunteer - that have made me painfully aware just how unaware business owners are of the legal risks with content. 

 

And saying you ‘didn’t know’ is no defence against legal action. 

 

I was a journalist for many years before starting my online business. Which means I’m very aware of the kinds of things that can land you in legal trouble with content. 

 

In this episode of the Courageous Content Podcast I share my thoughts on what you need to be aware of as a business owner - but also a human being - when it comes to 

posting content online (including responding to other peoples’ posts). Here’s what I’ll cover:

 

  • Understanding the difference between fact and opinion (and why it’s vital) 
  • What are defamatory statements (and how to avoid making them) 
  • How your responses other peoples’ content could land you in legal hot water 
  • Steps you can take to protect yourself against legal action 

 

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. If you need specific legal guidance on this topic, you will need to consult a suitably qualified person. These are just my thoughts on what you need to be aware of - based on my experience. 

 

*TRIGGER WARNING* (Podcast contains reference to death by suicide)

 

Key Links

Janet Murray’s Courageous Content Planner

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Janet Murray’s Courators Kit

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Suzanne Dibble’s website

How to protect your content from copycats (podcast)

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Transcripts

IMPORTANT: THIS TRANSCRIPT IS AUTOMATICALLY GENERATED. WE GIVE IT A QUICK CHECK THROUGH BUT WE DON’T CORRECT EVERYTHING AS IT’S INTENDED TO HELP YOU FIND PARTS YOU WANT TO LISTEN TO AGAIN - NOT AS AN EXACT TRANSCRIPT. SO THERE MIGHT BE A FEW QUIRKY WORDS/PHRASES HERE!

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I was a journalist for many years before starting my online business, which means I'm very aware of the kinds of things that can land you in legal trouble with your content. And in recent months, I've dealt with a number of issues, both professionally and also in my work as a volunteer that have made me painfully aware, just how unaware people are of the risks,

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both in line. You can't go around posting anything you like about people online, unless you're willing to take the consequences that is I'm Janet Murray. I'm a content and online business strategist. And in this episode of the courageous content podcast, I share the things you need to be aware of as a business owner when it comes to posting online. So first off a couple of disclaimers,

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I'm not a lawyer, this is not legal advice. I'm just sharing my experience both from my time as a journalist and editor, I had to deal with lawyers pretty regularly, answer their questions, sometimes change things that they were worried about. So I'm talking here for my experience as a journalist and also from around eight years experience in online business. Second disclaimer is that I'm not going to cover everything that I could possibly cover on this topic,

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but I'm just going to give you a quick overview of some of the things that you need to bear in mind. And I would certainly recommend that you get yourself educated on this topic. And a couple of last things before we get stuck into the content, I really am not trying to scare monger hair or to make you worried about what you post online,

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but just to give you that awareness that will hopefully prevent you from landing yourself in legal trouble, and also help you to understand things from the point of view of someone who may have asked you to remove content, or may have even raised the topic of legal action in the past, it can sound scary, but it really doesn't have to be if you have some awareness and one more thing,

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I'm going to talk about death by suicide a little bit later in this episode, not in great detail, but if that is an issue that's would make you feel uncomfortable. Just a warning that I will touch on that later. So first off the bottom line really is this. You cannot go around posting anything you like about people on line saying that you didn't know the law,

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or didn't know the rules. Isn't a defense posting your comments in a Facebook group or a slack group, or somewhere that you consider to be private is no defense either. So unless you're willing to take the consequences, you really do need to be careful around what you post on line. And I'm bringing this topic up now because I feel like I'm seeing a lot of business owners who are getting worryingly close to the line at the moment.

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And I've noticed something that I think may be contributing to the problem. And it's this people seem increasingly confused about the difference between fact and opinion. So what is factually true? What happened, what somebody actually said and your interpretation of what happened and what someone said. So both personally and professionally, I've dealt with about half a dozen situations over the last six months to a year where people have accused me or my business of things that haven't actually happened.

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So when I looked into what was going on, they were presenting their interpretation of something that somebody said or something that happened as fact, and I'm seeing this happen so often that I have actually found myself wondering if there's something bigger going on. Maybe it's a lockdown. Maybe there's some kind of, I don't know, collective trauma where we're also upset and unsettled by the events of recent years.

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We're unable to see the difference between what actually happened and our opinion or I'm interpretation of something that happens. I don't know. But what I do know is that the law hasn't changed. So just to be clear fact is what actually happened. So something that you can prove, whereas screenshots with recordings, with witness statements opinion is your interpretation of what happened.

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So let's say for example, you get a message from your boss that makes you feel horrible inside. And it might make you feel as if they're saying you are rubbish at your job, but that isn't the same as your boss actually saying, Janet, you all rubbish at your job. And you having evidence that they said this on text or email, for example.

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So to put this into context, maybe you've worked with a coach or a teacher. And after your sessions with them, you left feeling a certain way as if maybe they didn't feel that you weren't good enough or that you were working hard enough or whatever that might be. There may be some validity in how you're feeling. But if they didn't actually say that to you,

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if they didn't say Janet, you are not working hard enough. This is all down to you, your lazy or troublesome. If you complain to that coach or teacher and say, you said, I was lazy, you said I wasn't pulling my weight. And they didn't actually say that there isn't an email or a screenshot or a recording of them saying that then your argument is not going to stand up.

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And this might sound a little bit obvious, but I really wouldn't be sharing it if I hadn't come across this kind of confusion. So often over the last, I'd say it's the last six months to a year. And remember this doesn't just apply to your own content. So things that you're writing, it also applies to you responding to somebody else's content.

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So let's say for example, that you saw somebody posting on their Facebook profile about a coach or a teacher that you worked with, and maybe they didn't name that person, but you recognized something was some details in what they shared that made you think, oh yes. It's that person that I worked with too. And we're on that in a second. And the dangers around that,

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you might jump onto that post and get, oh yes, yes. I've had that too. I found that they were, they knocked my confidence to that. He didn't show up to their one-to-one. They didn't deliver loads stuff that they promised. Now, if that's factually true and you have emails and you have text messages or recordings or whatever, then you might be okay.

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But remember when we are upset about something, when somebody has made us feel a certain way, even if they haven't actually said anything, it's just the way that they make us feel. That's when we're likely to get confused between fact and opinion. So you might jump merrily on that post and you might share things that you feel about what that particular coach or teacher was like.

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But what you're saying might not actually be factually true because you're upset. You're sharing your interpretation of what happened. And again, that's not to say there's no validity in what you're thinking or feeling, but unless what you're saying is factually accurate. You could be at risk of defamation. It being someone else's social media posts doesn't matter, you would still be accountable and potentially culpable.

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So another thing to bear in mind is that you don't have to name somebody to get into legal trouble for defamation. I see a lot of posts online, which are very passive aggressive. And it's somebody who might be talking about a coach or teacher they've worked with, or it could be a client that they've worked with. And what you get on the comments then is a load of people saying,

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oh, is it this person? Or is it that person? Oh, I think I know who you might be talking about. And I call them drama posts. I absolutely hate them. So two things about that. Number one, if you post that post, you might think you're all clever, not naming the person, but if you include any details that would make somebody go,

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oh, is that Janet Murray you're talking about? Or anyone else just using myself as an example, then you could land yourself in legal trouble for defamation. Similarly, if you're that person who comments and says, oh, are you talking about Janet Murray or whoever it might be, or you add any further details, you wouldn't even have to name them. That would help other people to identify who that person was.

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You could also be in legal trouble and I've heard a few people say recently, well, it can't be defamation if it's true, but let me take you back to what I was sharing earlier about facts and opinion. When we're upset, when somebody has made us feel a certain way, not only to order us exaggerate and we all do it like hands up,

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I do it too. But that's when we're at most, at risk of confusing, what actually happens and our opinion or interpretation of what happened. So defamation is any content that you post, which might impact negatively on someone's reputation. So let's say for example, you either start one of these drama posts where you've not naming a coach or teacher or a client that you've worked with,

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but you give enough details so that people start jumping on that post and saying, oh, I think I know who it is. They start adding extra details. Maybe they even named the person. Then that is defamation because before you know it, hundreds or thousands of people may have seen that whole thread, that whole conversation, and be making a negative judgment about that person,

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which may not actually be true because everybody's drawing on their opinion or interpretation of what happened rather than the actual fact, because it's what people tend to do when they're upset. And the minute somebody posts, oh, I was going to work with that person. And now I'm not going to then that's evidence. That's evidence of defamation that person's reputation has been damaged.

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Now, like I say, I'm not a legal expert. If I was to have a lawyer here with me now, I'm sure they'd have lots of ifs and buts and all of that. But these are general principles areas where I would be really careful. My advice to you will be not to get involved. If you ever see anyone posting about someone,

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even if you're saying, oh yes, it's that person. And they totally stitched me up or whatever don't post on it, do the right thing. If you are unhappy about the service that you've received, reach out to the person, if you're unhappy about the way a client or customer is conducting themselves, reach out to them privately because the minute you go public,

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even if there is some trees or a lot of truth, in what you're saying, if what you present online in public is not a hundred percent factually accurate, then your risk of ending yourself in legal trouble. So take it offline. But aside from the legal thing, it's just the right thing to do. But I think about the advice that my parents have given me over the years,

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and one of them is my mom's always said to me, if you have an issue with somebody or problem with somebody, deal with it in private, like take them aside, ask, can I have a word with you? Can I speak to you privately? Because human beings don't like being humiliated. They don't like being called out. And when people are humiliated or embarrassed,

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they can act up in all sorts of ways. So even if you are right in what you're saying, things can turn very ugly very quickly. I'm not a psychologist as well as a lawyer. But I do know about the whole fight and flight thing. When you post something about somebody online, you activate that fight and flight thing. They want to protect themselves.

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They go on the attack. You know, you're not giving anyone in the situation, a chance to resolve it and to move forward in a positive or peaceful way. And I also want to say here that people aren't being overdramatic or heavy handed. If they pull you up about something you've said online, or they ask you to remove something that's factually inaccurate,

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or even if they raise the topic of legal action in relation to something you've posted, I've had this happen to me a number of times, and the reaction has been, oh, well, I think you're being a bit heavy handed. I think you're taking this a bit seriously. Well, hang on a minute. This is my business that I have spent years building up.

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I've worked really hard. Someone posting untruths, half-truths partial trees, exaggerations, which people are very prone to do when they are upset. It could finish off my business, posting untruths or half-truths or exaggerations about people online can end marriages. It can cause irrevocable, friendship, breakdowns. It can lead to people losing their houses, their families, everything they have.

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Why would you do that to someone? If you have the opportunity first to speak to them about it privately. And if you still think it's OTT, remember it can even lead to the loss of life. Consider how many lives have been lost to death by suicide due to social media, trolling, online bullying, public shaming, someone that comes to mind immediately as Caroline flag,

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we will never know exactly what happened between her and her partner. But what we do know is that the stress and strain of what was likely half-truths or partial traits and being posted about that person on line ultimately may have led to the death. So this is serious stuff. Someone asks you to remove something. If they raised the topic of legal action, it's because posting things about people online that aren't true or only partly true or are exaggerations,

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cause you're upset. It can have really, really serious consequences. So do the right thing, both for yourself and also for the person you're dealing with and always try to resolve it privately. And if you are going to post negative things about people online, well, you'd better be sure you've got your facts straight because this is serious stuff. So I hope you found that helpful.

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I'm not a lawyer. These are just basic common sense things. I would suggest all business owners think about a couple of people to follow who are experts in this say there's Suzanne Dibble. I'll link to her website in the show notes. I've invested in her legal packs and templates in the past and Egbe Manton, who has been a guest on the show,

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I'll link to her podcast, which was more about dealing with copycats, but we did touch on what's okay to post online. And what isn't in that episode and do also consider if you haven't got it already professional indemnity insurance, because, and this is something I haven't even really got into in this episode. If someone does accuse you of defamation, it can be a very costly process to be involved in.

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And finally it really is better to be safe than sorry if someone contacts you and they ask you to take something down and they probably have very good reason for doing so.