It’s not just celebrities who need to manage their online reputation. Your social media persona may not be the full picture of who you are, but it represents you and, whether you like it or not, how others perceive you. All it takes is one bad post to ruin your reputation, or worse, get you into legal trouble.
Whether you’re an influencer or the average Jane, you need to think before you click, share, like, comment, or post. Here are 10 types of posts that you may not realize could land you in hot water.
1. Your private info
We’re talking about your full birthdate, home address, personal phone number, passport info, credit card numbers, and many other security risks. Even if your social media page is set to private, you never know who’s looking at your profile. Posting personal info makes you an easy target for identity theft, scams, hacking, and other potential crimes. Yes, even that #wanderlust Instagram photo of you holding your passport is a risk, as long as your full name, address, and other personal info are clear enough to read.
Even tickets are risky. According to Kaspersky Lab, one thing that plane tickets, concert tickets, lottery tickets, and sporting tickets have in common is bar codes, which can allow hackers to extract your personal info. If the bar code is clear, scammers may even duplicate your ticket.
Tip: If you really can’t help it, blur out or place a sticker on the telling details and bar codes before posting a flat lay of your passport or tickets. Don’t include your year of birth when sharing your birthday on Facebook.
2. Announcing the death of a person… before the family does
When you hear about someone’s death, do you immediately post RIP on your wall and turn it into a discussion thread? The deceased’s family members and close friends might not have been informed yet. According to Mashable’s “A guide to Facebook etiquette after someone has died,” social media can be deeply overwhelming and upsetting in the immediate aftermath and even the long after a person’s death.
How would you feel if a family member died, and before any of your relatives could even contact you about it, a random person has already announced it on social media? The last thing you want is to draw the ire of the dead person’s family.
Tip: Wait until the the immediate family makes their own official announcement before you post your goodbyes. You have the right to express your grief, but observe timing and respect. The same ethics apply to announcing other people’s big news, like engagements and pregnancies.
3. Your exact location
It seems harmless and fun to use Facebook’s check-in options or to document your travels on Facebook Live and Instagram Stories. But posting your exact whereabouts and announcing your exact travel dates could spell disaster. Potential burglars could take advantage of your family’s absence from home. Stalkers could track your immediate whereabouts. If you’re a celebrity or come from a high-profile family, geotagging is like an open invite for kidnappers and intruders. If you keep announcing on Twitter that you’re home alone, you’re making yourself an easy target for criminals.
Tip: Wait until you get home before bombarding your social media accounts with albums or blow-by-blow details of your vacation. If you can’t help but post photos and videos instantly while eating at a resto or attending events, disable geotags or location tracking before posting anything. Never announce your exact travel dates, detailed itinerary, or if you’re home alone. If you must update family members of your whereabouts, use the private message option.
4. Your house and possessions
Think twice before posting photos of your newly renovated home, your jewelry collection, or your expensive purchases. According to a report by Reuters, aside from announcing your travel plans and whereabouts (see #3), broadcasting your purchases and home interiors creates a field day for professional burglars.
Tip: There’s nothing wrong with wanting to share your blessings with your loved ones. Instead of posting photos of your new possessions on your wall, create a private messaging group for your family or clan. Avoid sharing the exact addresses of your private properties, even in Facebook events.
5. Defamatory statements
If you had a terrible experience with an online seller, a friend you lent money to, an abusive ex, a motorist on the road, or just about any situation where you were wronged, where do you go to officially complain—Facebook? That seems to be the norm these days, but it’s actually not the professional or legal way to go. “You commit libel when you impute a crime, defect, or circumstance that dishonors an individual (dead or alive) or a corporation, when such dishonored person is identifiable,” said Atty. Paul Cornelius T. Castillo.
In short, it’s when you say something really bad against someone. For as long as the victim (the one being shamed) can be identified, he/she/it can criminally sue for libel. The offender (the one who posted the defamatory statements) can be punished by at least six years of jail time, although this is subject to many factors,” said Atty. Castillo.
“Don’t ever do business with Mr. ABC, since he only steals your money and never honors his part of the deal.” “Ms. XYZ cheated in all of her exams and does not deserve her place in the honor roll.” “Company 123 sells absolutely fake—and sometimes stolen—bags, even as it claims that these are originals.”
Tip: Even if you were truly wronged, online shaming can turn you into an offender as well. “While it is tempting to go public when someone has wronged you, try to seek redress in a manner that will not give your opponent material to go against you,” said Atty. Castillo. When seeking justice, it’s best to get legal help to know the proper protocols.
6. Other people’s private info
You violate the law when you post personal information that must be kept private, like photos of identification cards (ex. passports, licenses) or documents (ex. health records, employment records) of a client or customer of your company. “Depending on the nature of the information, you are violating the data privacy act and may also be held liable under other laws, like bank laws and civil registry laws,” said Atty. Castillo. Posting a status with info about a person that was obtained in confidence also falls under this offense.
Tip: If your private information is made public for the world to see, ask the person who disclosed your private information to remove it. Atty. Castillo also advises seeking urgent help from the National Privacy Commission. If you are the offender, even if you’re doing it to seek redress after being wronged (see #5), you can get fined and go to jail.
7. Bragging about your misconducts
Whether meant as a joke or as a blatant brag, posting about your offenses can land you serious jail time. Examples include: 1.) Photos with products of the criminal act, like a stolen car, unlicensed firearms, and illegal substances; 2.) Boasting about an offense or crime, like “I broke 200kph today in SCTEX with my brand new V6!” or “I stole someone’s iPhone last night at a friend’s party just for the heck of it;” and 3.) Documenting your crime or violation as it happens, like using Facebook Live while drunk driving or shoplifting as a dare.
“Depending on what you posted, you may be violating the Revised Penal Code, Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, Traffic Code, etc.,” said Atty. Castillo. “Depending on the criminal act that you proudly documented, you can get imprisoned.”
Tip: Don’t—not even as a joke—post about using illegal substances, committing violations, and other criminal acts. Even if you decide to take it down after posting, it’s easy for people to screencap and keep the receipts.
8. Posing as someone else
Identity theft is when you pose as someone or something you are not. Examples include: pretending to be a celebrity, purporting to be a person of influence, and making it appear that you’re the exclusive seller of a popular item, even if you are not. This falls under the Cybercrime Act. If you have defrauded someone under identify theft, you may also be charged for additional crimes, like swindling or estafa. “Even if you haven’t caused damaged, you may still be liable under the law,” said Atty. Castillo.
Tip: Don’t appear as someone or something you’re not. Period.
9. Offensive posts
Before you start complaining or demeaning people online, think about who could possibly see what you post—future employers, colleagues, and your current boss. Even if your social media account is set to private, you never know who could take screencaps of your spur-of-the-moment cursing and rambling. That offensive Tweet you posted years ago could be unearthed by the new company you’re applying to. That racist review you posted on a restaurant’s page could cause you your job, as it did with this Yale dean.
Tip: Social media is not the place to air your dirty laundry, prejudice, and work complaints. Remember: You are what you Tweet. Anything and everything you put online reflects who you are. Observe proper decorum online in the same way you should offline.
10. Unflattering photos or posts
It’s not just those embarrassing drunken photos that could ruin your reputation. Posting fake news, medical misinformation, hoaxes, gossip, and personal attacks (see #9) could taint your name. A quick scroll through your Facebook wall forms an immediate impression of you.
Tip: Before you post anything online, ask yourself: “Do I want my boss, future colleagues, potential spouse, or relatives to see this?” If the answer is no, then don’t post it, not even if your account is set to private. Research and verify before sharing articles or writing comments.
Special thanks to Atty. Paul Cornelius T. Castillo
Senior Associate in a medium-sized, top-tier law firm
Graduate of Ateneo de Manila Law School
Professor, FEU Institute of Law
As public service, he answers law-related questions through Facebook and email at firstname.lastname@example.org.