Social Media Benefits and Risks

Last month I had a birthday and was overwhelmed by good wishes sent my way. Most were on social media, which includes Facebook for friends and family, and LinkedIn for business connections. Over the last decade social media has revolutionized the way we communicate and stay in touch. I love it!

But, this being an insurance newsletter, I need to bring up the dark side. The informal and sometimes anonymous nature of social media can lull us away from proper risk management:

Not Home

The number one mistake I see is people posting vacation photos on social media real-time, effectively telling would-be burglars they aren’t home for an extended period, so the coast is clear.

Wild West

Some people, particularly teens, have the mistaken impression that the internet is a no-rules zone where anything goes. However, courts have ruled online comments as “published” and open to legal challenge. Teens frequently participate in embarrassing photos, unfiltered thoughts, gripe sites, hot or not sites and/or cyber-bullying. Charges of libel, harassment, invasion of privacy and defamation of character could result.

Also, employers regularly review social media as part of their background checks. That picture of you getting crazy might have been funny at the time, but it gets very uncomfortable to try and explain it to a potential employer five years later.

Business Issues

Today many businesses market using social media, but they can run into trouble if they falsely disparage competitors (either directly or through a posting mechanism), or infringe on copyrights. Website disclaimers provide little if any protection against legal action.

What To Do-Personal

Have a family meeting about social media and establish some rules:

  • Don’t share sensitive personal information
  • Don’t share where you are at the moment
  • Don’t post anything you aren’t willing to broadcast
  • Use privacy controls so only your friends can see your posts

Most homeowners’ policies and umbrellas cover social media legal issues under “personal injury” provisions, but the best protection is to avoid exposure.

What To Do-Business

If you can afford it, hire an expert to keep you out of trouble (we use Kiner Communications in Palm Desert, CA). Have rules about who can speak for your company and what they can say. Safeguard access to your website/social media. Review your “right to use” contracts to avoid unintentional copyright infringement. And if an issue arises, take down the material in question asap.

Social media is a fun and effective way to stay in touch with friends, family, colleagues and clients. And its growth is amazing (see the “Did You Know” column to the right). But it’s not some legal neutral zone. Maybe the best rule of thumb is only post what you wouldn’t mind seeing in your local newspaper. Insurance provides some protection, but common sense risk prevention is your best defense.


This site is informational and not a substitute for professional advice. Insurance coverage is subject to the language of the policies as issued.