Social Media Ramifications for Professionals: A Cautionary Tale

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The use of social media as a marketing tool for professionals has become increasingly common.  Studies suggest that this trend will continue as more professionals are utilizing social media to develop business.  In an ever-changing technological world, many attorneys and other professionals tweet, post status updates, engage in internet advertising, or blog on a regular basis without considering the legal and ethical ramifications .  Recent decisions serve as a reminder that the outcome of social media activity may result in unwanted and unintended attention.

Case study one: Last month a Chicago attorney faced an ethics complaint filed by the Illinois Registration and Disciplinary Commission for posting a blog describing the “corrupt practices” of the Illinois Probate Court.  The Disciplinary Commission alleged that the attorney’s posts were false, misleading, and undermined the administration of justice.

Case study two: Last month a Michigan attorney was ordered to remove Facebook posts relating to a settlement in a class action lawsuit against McDonald’s Restaurants.  The court presiding over the class action said that the posts had a negative effect on the administration of justice.  The court targeted the attorney’s post which proposed an alternative to the division of settlement funds.  Calling the posts deceptive and false, the judge ordered that the attorney remove the posts and also ordered the attorney to provide contact information for all of the individuals that “liked” the post.

These are only two recent decisions but there are many more examples of similar disciplinary action targeting the use of social media.  Professional Liability Matters does not miss the irony of using social media to warn others about the ramifications of social media.  However, the lesson is important.

Sure, social media communication is often casual and it is easy to take certain liberties, but all communications from a professional must be carefully vetted for truth, accuracy, and overall professionalism.  Moreover, certain safeguards should be implemented before pushing material online.  For example, check the ethical rules in your jurisdiction regarding social media use.  Other tips are available here.

These case studies and others serve as a cautionary tale to all professionals who should think twice before going live with their next social media communication.