Keep ‘Em Separated – Combined Social Media Accounts Leads to Property Dispute
Many professionals promote through social media. Within small practices, where an individual is often responsible for contributing content to the site, the lines between business profiles and personal accounts easily overlap. On the surface, a professional’s decision to add personal content to her company account does not necessarily raise any ethical or business concerns. However, where ownership of the business changes, disputes may arise as to whether the social media account is property of the company, or should remain in the possession of the individual professional who created it.
Take, for instance, the recent account of a Texas small business owner who used social media to promote his store. Although the owner’s social accounts were intended to promote his business, the owner regularly posted messages reflecting his personal views on a variety of political issues. The business later filed for bankruptcy and a new owner purchased the company. As part of the transfer, the new owner requested that the original owner turn over the passwords to the social media accounts, which the bankruptcy court had declared were property of the business. The former owner initially refused the demand, contending that they represented his personal accounts and not the company’s. As a result, the owner was held to be in violation of the judge’s order to produce the account passwords and he spent seven weeks in jail. Eventually the owner agreed to turn over the accounts and was released.
As the legal landscape of social media continues to develop, professionals and other business owners must tread cautiously when combining personal and company content on one social media account. If an account is used for business purposes, it may be deemed an asset of the company and could potentially compromise personal information uploaded to the profile. Professionals should therefore strive to keep a bright line between business and personal social media use.