While we may be innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, we have a higher burden in the court of public opinion. Social media plays a central role in how we form our opinions on the news and on each other.
Lately, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media channels have been conduits for the spread of fake news. While it also plays a legitimate source for news, it also has become a popular medium that allows you and I to air grievances with companies that have bad customer service and about people who may have made bad choices.
Whether true or not, today, accusations start on Facebook and end up in the courtroom. With the allegations then published, they are liked and they are shared. For more high profile cases, the media is quick to report on them. The media no longer waits to check the facts or the source, and instead, offers a disclaimer that it hasn't.
Making such claims, true or not, has the potential to destroy someone's reputation. While that may be the intent of the post, before posting anything online, it is important to go through a process for making a claim, to create a paper trail to back up your posts, while make people you trust aware of what happened.
Sharing information with a spouse, friends, and co-workers is important. Capturing emails and texts. Filing a complaint at work and with the EEOC or filing a police report are all important steps as well.
This holds true for the person being accused if the allegations happen to be false. If you are falsely accused, the posts, the comments, even the likes provide a roadmap for filing a defamation claim against the accuser and perhaps even those who liked, shared or commented on the post.
I wrote an earlier blog, Communication is key in creating comfortable workplaces, that company's need to communicate to their employees and customers what their harassment policies are. This includes other policies that will create safe workplaces.
Before you post something, stop and consider the impact it will have on you and the person you are calling out. While your friends online will be quick with their support for the poster and contempt for the accused, think about the best forum to make the claim.
Although our judicial process is not perfect it does provide a framework by which to structure a legal claim around. Victims of a crime should leverage the legal resources available to them. It guarantees due process and certain protections for all parties involved.
From a reputation perspective, you have to determine the impact the posts will have on your reputation and the need and desire for you to respond on the same place you were accused. If you respond, know that anything you post can and will be reposted, including emails, texts, and letters. Not only will it be posted, it will be considered an open invitation for others to comment on, and you have already been judged by an online jury.
I do not want to minimize the power of social media for any victim of a crime. Social media can aide first responders in their investigation and help with an arrest, it can help provide hope to people when they have been wronged and shame to those who committed a crime. But for the innocent and falsely accused, it can damage their reputation forever. It is important for those people to find a way out and restore the people's trust in them.