Embrace social media but be aware of your responsibilities and legal obligations, says Karen Walsh
Social media has become increasingly prevalent in the modern world and has become a key tool for businesses when marketing their products.
Social media can be an especially useful platform for showing how the farming process works and for promotion of agriculture.
Consumers are highly active on social media platforms, and are constantly being fed information.
Social media is not just a way for farmers and businesses to communicate with the consumer, it also allows the farmer or business to learn from the consumer.
Like everyone else, farmers should make themselves aware of the legal aspects of the digital world we live in, in areas such as defamation and data protection.
The main social media platforms are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and LinkedIn. Most businesses have their own websites and social media pages.
When using social media, the following legal issues have to be considered:
Freedom of expression;
Intellectual property rights.
If you have farm employees, it is advisable to have a clear policy on social media in place. What is also critical is that you make your employees aware of such a policy.
In case law before the courts, the Employment Appeals Tribunal has refused to uphold otherwise fair dismissals where social media policy was unclear.
Defamation is becoming increasingly common in Ireland with regard to social media websites.
Defamation is normally where an untrue statement has been published in respect of a person or group of persons that has damaged that person’s reputation in the eyes of reasonable members of society.
Publication would include verbal communication, email and internet postings, as well as publications in newspapers and on television or radio.
People often think you cannot defame somebody on social media but that is not the case, and it is important to be aware of this. Defamation law in Ireland is governed by the Defamation Act 2009.
People are also afforded protection and a right to privacy and protection of their personal data.
This is part of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and is dealt with in Articles 7 and 8.
On May 25, 2018, the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) will be enforced.
These regulations are far-reaching, and are designed to protect all the uses in data privacy and reshape the way organisations across the European Union approach data privacy.
Farmers who operate on a large scale, and have a number of employees, should be aware of these regulations, and it is important that you prepare your business for the regulations, which would include internal record keeping requirements. For a very large business, it may be necessary to appoint a data protection officer. Breaches of the regulations may result in prosecution by the relevant data protection authority.
In summary, whilst there are certainly advantages to using social media, and it is recommended that farmers embrace social media, it is important to be aware that there are certain responsibilities and legal obligations when using social media platforms.
If you are concerned that your legal rights have been breached, or that you have potentially committed a criminal act by using social media, it is advisable that you consult with a solicitor.