Cayce Myers is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at Virginia Tech where he teaches public relations. His research focuses on laws and regulations affecting public relations practice. Dr. Myers holds a Ph.D. in mass communication from the University of Georgia, Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, an LL.M. from the University of Georgia School of Law, and a J.D. from Mercer University Walter F. George School of Law. He is also the legal research editor for the Institute for Public Relations.
What’s one of the most common legal mistakes new public relations practitioners tend to make?
We live in a society where social media and mobile technology are everywhere. New public relations practitioners may not realize that sharing, posting, and messaging can have legal consequences. For example, using intellectual property of another for promotional purposes without permission can lead to expensive and unnecessary lawsuits. In addition, because tweets, posts, and sharing can be done in a matter of seconds, there is a misperception that this content is not really important. However, words, no matter how few or seemingly unimportant, can be the basis for a lawsuit.
In writing social media policies, can organizations really limit what employees say or require them to obtain approval before posting?
Like many things in law the answer to this depends on the circumstances. If a social media account is owned by the organization then limits can be set on what can be posted. However, regulation of private accounts of employees is very restrained. The National Labor Relations Board has struck down social media policies that require employees to get pre-approval from managers before posting about workplace grievances. However, straightforward, well-written policies can survive legal scrutiny. For instance, employers can prohibit employees from engaging in harassment, disclosure of trade secrets, or posting their intellectual property. The bottom line is organizations can regulate social media speech in limited circumstances, but employees do not forfeit their speech rights because they work for a specific organization.