The National TOP 100 Trial Lawyers
America's Top 100 - Criminal Defense Attorneys
Avvo Reviews
Avvo Ratting 10.0 Top Attorney
Avvo Clients' Choice Award 2018
The University of Texas at Austin School of Law

Five Common Social Media Activities That Are Actually Illegal

The Law Firm of Andrea M. Kolski
Social media icons

There’s a saying among criminal justice attorneys that “Everything on social media can and will be used against you.” While this may sound like a joke, the legal impact of social media use is no laughing matter.

Every year, the FBI records approximately 800,000 online cyber crimes. While we’re all glad when law enforcement cracks down on cyber crimes, more and more people, and especially teens, are finding themselves in legal trouble for misunderstanding the laws around cyber crime, social media, internet use, and other everyday platforms. Unfortunately, misunderstanding the law is no excuse when facing charges and the punishments are just as severe.

It’s estimated that Over 400 million people become victims of everything from cyberbullying to social media crimes. Unaware teens can find themselves in the crosshairs of law enforcement when it comes to online sex crimes, cyberbullying, and other social media misdeeds.

For many, the definition of “cyberbullying” and “social media” are vague and often confusing. Because of this, it’s easy to see why a growing number of people, young and old, are shocked when the the police come knocking at their door.

Online crimes are tricky to pin down at times. But make no mistake, crimes on social media have very real consequences just as severe as those in real life–and in some cases, even worse.

It may seem obvious which things you shouldn’t do online. Solicitation of a minor or making death threats are two common examples. But many may be surprised to learn that commonplace and seemingly innocuous activities can actually be grounds for legal penalties.

In this guide, we will discuss the five most common crimes on social media and how to insure you or a loved one doesn’t cross the line. Read on for five examples of things you should never do on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any social media platform.

1. Social Media Crimes Include Using Copyrighted Material

Using copyrighted material can get you into hot water fast. Imagine one day you are Googling for a specific picture. You find one, save it, and then immediately publish it to your social media profile. Unless the image had a Creative Commons license, you may have unknowingly broken the law.

Copyright law is pretty straightforward: the creator of an image or video has the right to it. That means no one else has the right to use or profit from a particular image. The only way to do so is after having received explicit, written consent.

Now, it’s important to understand that copyright law can get very tricky. So tricky in fact, that you may need a chart to help you determine if you can share or use an image.

Generally speaking, we recommend against posting an image, video, or song that is not your own. If you decide to post licensed content on social media, be sure you’ve read and thoroughly understand the copyright license of that content and respect the protections of that legal license. If not, the owner of that material could take you to court and you could be on the hook for thousands, if not millions, of potential damages.

Are There Exceptions to This Rule?

There are exceptions but it’s best to err on the side of caution. One example of an exception is posting a friend’s picture, or one with a Creative Commons license. Further, you may not suffer any punishment for reposting a copyrighted image. The original poster would suffer the consequences in that situation.

There are many image, video, and music providers online that offer material for publication. Shutterstock, for example, allows users to pay a fee to reuse creative material from their site.

While most people may not realize they’ve posted copyrighted material, it becomes a serious issue when they make a profit off of it. For example, using a copyrighted song in a YouTube video or the image of a famous artist to promote your online business.

Be sure that any images or materials you post are not copyrighted. If so, look for online services that provide non-copyrighted material or other content free from license entanglements. A little bit of effort and careful planning can help you avoid trouble with the law.

2. Providing False Information

This is a very common occurrence that can land you in trouble. For example, visiting a website that has an age requirement, and lying about your age. Most people, especially minors, don’t realize this seemingly innocent action can land them in hot water.

Social media accounts like Facebook and Instagram have been making headlines recently for cracking down on fake profiles and other misleading information. It’s a crime to threaten harm or hurt people online, even with a fake account. Further, someone can be sued for defamation or other damages if they pretend to be someone else or causing damage to one’s reputation. Again, the laws are vague but the consequences can be very real.

This is especially the case when concerning crimes for minors. Teens or children may, for many reasons, label themselves as an adult in their profile.

However, this is against the law–and can land those they interact with online in real trouble. It’s especially true if they are using social media for dating. If a minor provides false information or a false age, they can face legal consequences. Further, the parents or guardians of that minor may also be liable depending on the situation and activities the minor was engaged in.

3. Impersonating Another Person

As mentioned above, it’s illegal to impersonate another person. However, parody accounts may be protected under free speech. Still, taking parody too far can lead to legal repercussions.

Using a fake ID in real life is illegal. Similarly, impersonating another person online can also be illegal. Parody accounts are acceptable, but there are specific rules and guidelines that must be followed to avoid crossing the line. For example, it must be blatantly clear that an account is a parody. How exactly one defines “blatantly clear” is anyone’s guess.

Law enforcement is an exception and often uses fake online profiles to track down cyber criminals or online predators. Online sting operations are a growing part of police work because they are cheap to conduct, pose little risk to the officers, and can provide a digital trail of evidence when or if an arrest is made.

Put simply, it’s best for most people to steer clear of impersonating another person online to avoid problems with the law.

Perhaps, in order to gather evidence on a sketchy business or person, you record a Facebook or Instagram call with them. You do so secretly, without warning them. Your intention, after all, is to catch them in the act.

Texas is a one-party consent state. In other words, unless you are one of the parties on the call, you can’t record a conversation between two people without their consent. However, there are guidelines to how that recording may be used or submitted to a third party.

If for some reason you need to record a call, make sure you are adhering to Texas recording guidelines and don’t record calls or conversations of others without their consent. Public places, such as malls or sporting events, are often exempt from the privacy rules but even those situations can be illegal depending on the type of recording.

Your First Amendment rights allow you to take pictures of anyone you like in a public space. It’s only in places with a “reasonable expectation of privacy” where that is not the case. For example, on the premises of private property.

Say you go to a friend’s house for a party and take a picture of them or someone else there. If you don’t know them well, you should ask them for permission before posting their pictures. They have every right–if they so desire–to take you to court over posting these pictures against their consent. Privacy laws are intended to protect us all and apply even with friends and family.

Social media laws continue to evolve and the confusion around what’s legal and illegal is common. In this article we briefly covered some common situations such as impersonating another person, providing false information about yourself, and profiting off copyrighted content. But this is just a small sample of the many laws surrounding social media and the legal issues that people in every community may face.

When it comes to online and social media use, it’s best to proceed with caution. However, if you or a loved one have found themselves on the wrong side of the law, such as online solicitation or other cyber crimes, Montgomery county criminal defense attorney Andrea M. Kolski has the experience and skills to insure your rights are protected. She’s been fighting and winning in Texas tough criminal courts for over 22 years. Andrea’s record of success is second to none. Contact us today for a free case review.

Visit Us

By Appointment Only - Contact Us

The Woodlands Office
8505 Technology Forest Pl #104

The Woodlands, TX 77381

Phone: 832-381-3430

Get in Touch

Free Consultation 832-381-3430

What Our Customers Say

"Andrea is a fantastic attorney versed in many fields. I've retained her services for criminal defense, nondisclosure orders, and family law. She has always provided a...

Steven Street Texas

"Andrea and her staff are definitely one of the greatest of all time. Their professionalism and knowledge of the law and how the system works is unparalleled. I have her...

Dwight Osteen Texas

“Andrea is the most amazing attorney I have ever had in my corner.” — Vincent, client facing 2nd DWI charge, CASE DISMISSED