Unsolicited Advice: Shut Up

“zip your mouth and shut up” by pHotosHo0x from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

As a lawyer, clients come to help prevent or resolve legal problems. It’s my job to explore the pertinent facts of the situation, explain the legal implications to my client, present their options, and make recommendations. The decision of what to do is ultimately the client’s choice. When your lawyer recommends that you refrain from speaking about a situation publicly, that may be their polite way of saying, “Shut up. Anything you say will likely make your situation worse.”

What Not To Do
Today’s example of what not to do comes from Robert Scoble. After several women publicly accused him of sexual harassment and/or assault, he released a blog post entitled “No, of that I’m innocent.” In this post he wrote:

I have rejected my lawyer’s advice to not make a statement and in a spirit of healing I would like to address the issue head on with open and honest dialogue.

I’m glad he admitted that he was ignoring his lawyer’s advice. He went on to state what he called the “actual truth of the allegations” against him, naming his accusers, and calling out alleged misbehaviors of his accusers in their encounters with him.

If your lawyer is telling you not to talk about accusations against you, assuming you’re already in a hole. Stop digging.

Scoble also claimed he could not have sexually harass any of these women because he was never “in a position where I could make or break their careers.” Umm…that’s not how sexual harassment works. It can occur outside an employment, professional, or financial relationship.

Listen to Your Lawyer
When I first meet with a client, I explain that lawyer-client privilege applies, meaning I can’t repeat what I client tells me. The reverse is not true. I can’t control what a client says or posts when they leave my office. If I tell them not to talk about their case, it’s because I think that’s what’s in their best interest. As a third party, I’m not emotionally enmeshed in the situation. I can see the forest for the trees when they can’t and help move them towards the ultimate outcome they seek, and avoid pitfalls in the moment.

When it comes to internet posts, here are some of my general suggestions:

  • Think before you post.
  • Today’s righteous indignation may be tomorrow’s regret.
  • Ditto for drunken rants.

The internet never forgets. One post can cost you your career, marriage, or reputation. Even if you delete a post you regret creating, you don’t know how many people saw, copied, or downloaded the post before you deleted it. And there’s probably a copy of that post on a server somewhere.

If your lawyer advises you not to talk about something online or otherwise, don’t do it. There’s a good chance you’re setting yourself up for more pain in the future, and there are some bells that we can’t un-ring.

If you want additional information about the legalities of social media, please check out my book The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. You can also contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list.

FTC Rules: Easy to Follow, Easy to Forget

Happy Lawyers Unpacking our Barbri Books

I have the pleasure of speaking at Content Marketing World next month, in part, about the FTC rules that apply to advertising.

Disclose, Disclose, Disclose
The key to complying with the FTC rules for native advertising it to always disclose when you have a relationship with a company. That includes when you get a product for free, when you have a personal relationship with an officer of the company, and when you use affiliate links. In all of these situations, regardless of the platform, you have disclose when you are compensated for sharing an opinion or have a reason to be biased.

These rules even apply on social media platforms, including Instagram and Twitter. Usually using the hashtag “#ad” is sufficient to comply with the rules. The purpose of the rule is to let the reader know about your potential bias before they form an opinion about the product or your review.

The fine for violating these rules are harsh – up to $16,000 per violation under the current rules.

See you in Cleveland!
I have a goal of finding a way to climb this thing.

So Easy to Forget
These rules are simple to follow, and it’s also super easy to forget to remember to include the proper notice in a post. I had first-hand experience with this over the last few weeks.

My colleague and I teamed up with Barbri to study for the California Bar Exam. They gave me my study course for free (I split the cost of my colleague’s course with him) in exchange for writing a weekly post about what it’s like to study for a bar exam while practicing law. We did 11 weekly posts, and I’ll write one more when we get our results this fall.

Early in each post, I repeated verbiage that disclosed our relationship with Barbri – that was easy enough. Where I had trouble was remembering to include “#ad” on every social media post. It’s easy to forget to remember to include those three characters. There were many mornings where I had to edit my posts or delete and re-do tweets to add in “#ad.”

I recently learned I’m not alone. According to research, 37% of publishers do not adhere to the FTC rules for labeling the material as sponsored. I’m curious to see if the FTC is investigating or fining content creators who don’t follow the disclosure rules.

I’m super excited to talk about the FTC rules and how to write effective contracts for content creators at Content Marketing World. It’s one of my favorite events on online advertising. I’m just as ecstatic about speaking as I am about learning from my fellow presenters.

I’m constantly doing work related to internet law, so if you want to keep up with what I’m doing or if you need help, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.  You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

New & Improved – The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed

LSB - option 3In case you haven’t heard the news, the revision of my ebook The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed, is out and available in the Kindle Store!  (For those of you who don’t have a Kindle, there are free Kindle apps that will let you download and read it on your phone, tablet, and even your desktop computer.)

I love blogging. I love that every week I get to stand on my digital soapbox and pontificate about anything I want. (Don’t you just love the word “pontificate?”) Early on in my writing career a journalist friend told me that a journalist’s job is to “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” That has become my motto as well. I love that I get to write things that other people are thinking but maybe don’t have the guts to say themselves. I find it validating when people do that for me and I’m happy to pay it forward for others.

ruthcover smallerOf course when you’re an outspoken blogger and a law student (now a lawyer), you start asking a lot of questions about what you can say without getting into trouble. That led to me to writing a blog series about the legal side of blogging, taking a class on cyberspace law where I wrote a paper on the topic, and eventually this book. When you have a blog, you have an obligation to know how far you can push the envelope without crossing the line. And then when people get pissed at you because of a post, there’s often nothing they can do about it because you’ve done nothing wrong.  The law rarely gives you any type of recourse just because someone made you sad.

I wasn’t planning on writing a revision of my ebook so soon, but a conversation with the Copyright Office earlier this year forced my hand.  Apparently the word “published” had different meaning to normal rational people and the Copyright Office so I had to revise my chapter on copyright registration and I’m even more convinced that the Copyright Act needs a complete overhaul because it makes no sense when it comes to a lot of material that is only released on the internet.

Since I was doing revisions, I also added a section about anti-SLAPP laws too. SLAPP stands for strategic lawsuit against public participation. This is the type of counterclaim you can file when someone files a lawsuit against you because of your blog in an effort to shut you up. We don’t like it when people sue people just because they don’t like what they have to say but what they’re saying is not illegal.

I hope you enjoy The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed and recommend it to all your friends who are active on social media. I wrote this book with bloggers in mind but the lessons apply equally well to all types of social media.

You can connect with me on TwitterGoogle+FacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.
You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

On Being an Outspoken Blogger

Call a spade a spade by scarycurlgirl_photos from Flickr

Call a spade a spade by scarycurlgirl_photos from Flickr

I had the pleasure of speaking at TechPhx last weekend. My presentation was entitled The Legal Side of Blogging: 10 Questions to Ask Before you hit “Publish.” We had a great discussion about how to be an outspoken blogger without setting yourself up to get sued for defamation or invasion of privacy. Hat tip to Tyler Hurst who joined us via Ustream from Portland.

I walked away from the discussion with the reminder that big problems can result from little mistakes. Often times saying less is the best course of action. Sometimes it’s best to point out the dots and let your readers connect them. If there’s a news story that’s a hot topic in your community, you may want to write about the topic in general instead of the specifics about the situation. Your readers will know what you’re alluding to without having to explicitly state it.

When you’re a passionate writer, it’s important to state the facts and your feelings as they are without over-embellishing. Don’t manipulate the facts to get the message you want. Take a step back and review your work. Ask yourself what you can think, what you know, and what you can prove. When something is a rumor or an allegation, state that and cite your source when you can. Always be mindful of the fact that you can be sued for defamation if you repeat someone else’s defamatory statement – even if you didn’t know it was false.

One of my favorite ways to state my views without having to be so blunt about it is to quote someone who shares my perspective. I could call someone that I dislike or disapprove of an ass on my blog, but I think it’s more fun and effective to listen when others are talking about the issue and quote one of them when I hear them say “He’s a prick.”

If you want to learn more about your online dos and don’ts, check out my book The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed.
You can also connect with me via TwitterGoogle+Facebook, and LinkedIn, or you can email me.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.