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Retaliation through social media takes two forms. There is retaliation for something that occurred on social media, and there is using social media for retaliation. Many times both forms apply to the same conflict.
When someone is offended by a social media post, it is instinctive to want to fight back on the same platform. This is only a good idea if the response is carefully calculated to achieve a constructive goal. Most often retaliation on social media is emotional, reckless, and impulsive. This typically escalates and prolongs the social media confrontation, and could lead to a full-blown social media feud. As the insults and accusations are exchanged, someone inevitably crosses a line into disciplinary, lawsuit, or criminal prosecution territory. Businesses can suffer irreparable brand damage and individuals can permanently scar reputations.
If you are offended by a social media post, consider the consequences of your actions before taking them. Consider whether doing nothing could be the best course of action. Nobody may notice the offensive social media post if you don’t make a fuss about it. If you choose to retaliate on social media, do it from the high road. Don’t take cheap shots or do something inappropriate yourself. Consult with trusted legal advisers, stick to the facts, and maintain a morally defensible position. If you choose to fight dirt with more dirt, you may appear to be the aggressor and make the initial offender seem sympathetic.
Sometimes retaliation occurs in the real world in response to an offensive social media post. Careless social media postersget fired, get suspended from school, and lose opportunities because someone was bothered by something they put on the Internet. While a social media user might technically have the right to express their opinion, that does not necessarily mean that their employer, school, or anyone else can’t retaliate for it. There is a very short list of topics, such as discussions of workplace conditions in a concerted fashion, that are protected from retaliation. Almost everything else is not. So be careful what you post on social media.
Retaliating for a real-world offense on social media can be a legitimate exercise of your free speech right. For example, it is appropriate to leave a critical review on Yelp for a service you received. However if a social media retaliation campaign mutates into a vicious vendetta, it can easily backfire. Social media retaliators can face charges of cyberstalking or cyberharassment. Many jurisdictions take these offenses seriously, even sentencing offenders to life in prison. Making false accusations on social media in order to harm someone could also make you liable in a civil lawsuit for defamation. Courts have awardedmultimillion dollar judgements to victims of false social media retaliation.
The bottom line is to think carefully before deciding to go to war on social media. Even if you are attacked first, retaliating in a careless manner could turn you into the bad guy putting you at risk for a civil lawsuit, sanctions, or criminal charges. Social media is not as anonymous as many people think and you can’t post whatever you want without consequences. When in doubt, always consult a qualified lawyer knowledgeable in social media law before retaliating on social media.
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