Yes, You Can Be Sued Over a Facebook Post

In direct marketing, getting your audience’s attention is half the battle. But with ever more messages competing for that attention, your task becomes harder by the day. Combine the demand for punchy messaging with the frenetic pace necessary to make an impact on social media, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster: edgy and inflammatory messages can be published instantly with insufficient consideration of their impact. The chance to have an impact, though, is just as real as ever.

That’s not always a good thing.

Case in point: On the Facebook page “The Secret Behind The Walls at Beaumont Animal Services” pictures of animals from Animal Services in Beaumont, Texas appear with first-person captions describing conditions at the facility. According to those captions, life is not pretty for animals kept there.

While putting words in an animal’s mouth may seem like a pretty ho-hum move for a medium like Facebook, consider this: last week, the Beaumont Enterprise reported that Beaumont Animal Services has initiated a lawsuit against the page’s administrators, charging them with libel and slander for posting untrue and defamatory information.

Now the page’s creators are facing the scary reality of a lawsuit, which means they’ll have to find a lawyer to defend them, pay that lawyer’s fees, fund court costs, and possibly fork over money in the form of a settlement or judgment to cover damages.

Depending on the details of the lawsuit, those expenses could easily climb into the tens of thousands of dollars—not exactly the first thought on most people’s minds when they’re conceptualizing a campaign edgy enough to cut through the noise online.

Who can sue direct marketers?

Marketers face the potential for lawsuits primarily from two groups: their audience and their competitors. The former are likely to sue for false or misleading advertising claims; the latter for advertising claims that are slanderous or libelous.

And as the Beaumont Animal Services case illustrates, you don’t have to run a full-page ad in a glossy magazine to be exposed to expensive slander or libel lawsuits. In fact, in the age of social media, you can open yourself to advertising liability in a matter of seconds with a few clicks of the mouse and keyboard.

If that’s not enough to put a chill in your third cup of coffee, I don’t know what is.

The good news? You can insulate your business from the costs associated with slander and libel lawsuits. Here’s how.

General liability & advertising liability insurance for direct marketers

The first insurance policy most marketers (and other business owners) have to purchase to be in compliance with state laws is called general liability insurance (GLI). It covers basic exposures that all businesses face: client injuries on your premises, damage you accidentally cause to clients’ property – and, thankfully, advertising liability.

With a GLI policy in place, marketers receive benefits that cover the entire cost of a slander or libel lawsuit, including lawyer bills and settlements. Better yet, your policy protects you even if the charges against you are frivolous.

The creators of “The Secret Behind The Walls at Beaumont Animal Services” page are likely passionate about preventing animal cruelty. Let’s hope they were just as passionate about managing their digital risk exposures.

Ted Devine
is CEO of insureon, an online agent for small and micro businesses, including marketing consultants. Connect with him on Google+ or Twitter.

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