Is online activism safe for your business space?

Every business that goes onto social media wants to expand their reach, meet up with new followers, and grow their brand loyalty. One such way that many will do this is by participating in popular online trends.

But nothing is ever 100% free. What happens when you participate in an online trending story that your business should stay out of? Is it safe for your business to participate in online activism at all? Read what social media writer Matthew had to say about online activism below.

A recent case of online activism with complex legal issues

A very recent example that was plastered all over my Facebook feed was the story of a young woman being assaulted at the San Diego Comic Convention. The community rallied around the situation quickly; a blog post on the topic saw 10,000+ shares on Facebook within a day, and a further 1,000 shares on Twitter. That’s just this one blog post; the original post from the victim’s mother went viral across Tumblr.

saw 10,000 shares on Facebook

People were trying to spread the story to help find more information about the case. The young victim’s image was soon plastered all over the Internet, along with her name and her family’s information and phone number.

It was soon revealed that the young woman in question was a minor. This was obviously a problem as all mentions of her name had to be redacted, and all images taken down immediately, as it is illegal to identify the victim when they are a minor.

The San Diego Harbor Police issued a statement stating that an arrest had been made in relation to this case, but couldn’t make any other comment due to the victim being a minor. The question now is how much help did the police receive from all of this online hype, and how could it have potentially harmed your business if you joined in?

The danger of social media activism

This case is particularly tricky. I followed the story from the start so I know the name of the victim, her parent’s name, and what she looks like. This is due to social media users sharing her image as they shared this story. Now where would that place you as a business legally speaking if you had published all this? Potentially in a bad place.

First off, while this story was sadly quite true, there was a lot of misinformation to start with. Many people had their facts confused as to which police department was handling it (it was the San Diego Harbor Police, not the regular SDPD) and this lead to many claiming it was all hoax. Your business joining in on this, and agreeing that it’s a hoax or even entertaining the idea, could have disastrous whiplash effect on you when it’s found out to be true.

Secondly, given the nature of how she was a minor, you could be liable for publishing the image and name of a minor who legally can’t be identified. It is not likely in this case as the mother of the girl pleaded for her image and name to be shared, but this may not be the case with every story of online activism.

Other examples of online activism gone wrong

The story about a young girl being asked to leave a KFC due to her facial scars was a huge story all over the Internet. KFC stepped in, began their investigation, and pledged to help the little girl. Two separate independent investigations were conducted; both failed to bring any substantiation to the story. It was deemed a hoax.

young girl being asked to leave a KFC

Now what if your business had vilified KFC for their treatment of this girl, and made claims that it was all true? If KFC were vengeful, you could very well be looking at a libel charge, or sued yourself.

To give a case from my life, altering names to protect myself, a friend of mine named Ronnie runs an online business with a blog. Ronnie wrote an article on his blog about how a man in his industry named Ted was a fraud. Ronnie had said this based on something he heard online. The problem was that Ronnie had not been charged with fraud. Now Ted is suing Ronnie for libel and is up to his eyeball in lawyer fees.

This is a clear example of the dangers of online activism and how there are real world consequences for this. Before your business joins in on any form of social media or online activism your thoughts should always be:

● Will this truly help the victim at all, or am I just trying to join in on a sensational story?
● What sort of legal ramifications could there be for my business if I make certain statements in terms of guilt?
● Could my business be held liable due to my desire to have my say publicly?
● Is there an unforeseen complication (the victim being a minor) that could harm my business?

I’m not ever going to say “Never participate in any form of online activism,” but I am going to highly caution you on what you say, what information you convey, and advise you to not take sides until actual facts are released by the authorities. The chances that anything you do will actually help the police are absolutely minimal, while your actions could wind you up just as sued as my friend Ronnie.

Author Bio
Just to wish to say a big thank you to Matthew for his take on ‘Is online activism safe for your business space’. Matthew is the social media writer over on the Social Media Marketing blog. You can find him there every Friday writing about the latest developments in social marketing, with breaking news posts being written as they happen throughout the week.

Do you think online activism is safe for your business space?

Is online activism safe for your business space?

  • Matthew

    If anyone has any questions or comments about this specific article, I’m available down here in the comments!