Unintended consequences of posting online: Use of social networking sites sparks legal battles for Courtney Love and college students

Celebrity Courtney Love has recently been at the forefront of social media related controversy.

Celebrity Courtney Love has recently been at the forefront of social media related controversy.

Social networking sites like Twitter and Instagram have become as much a part of our daily lives as morning coffee. Yet those who enjoy these sites rarely think about the unintended consequences of posting every passing thought and emotion for the world to see. A case in point is that of rock singer Courtney Love who has been embroiled in more than one lawsuit related to posts that she has made on social media sites.

The case of Courtney Love

It all began in early 2009 when Love accused fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir of being a prostitute and dealing drugs. According to Simorangkir, Love posted her comments publicly on Twitter and MySpace. The accusations were apparently based on a dispute over payment for several items of clothing. Love settled the case in 2011 and paid $430,000 in damages.

As if that wasn’t enough to teach Love restraint in her posts, she proceeded to use social media to attack her lawyer, Rhonda Holmes. In a Twitter post, Love accused Holmes of being bought off while representing her in a fraud case against the estate of her late husband, Nirvana lead Kurt Cobain.

Love claimed that she did not intend that the tweet be public and that she quickly deleted it. Jurors found her story credible and ruled in her favor. Anthony McCartney reported on the case in his January 25, 2014 article for ABCNews.com titled, “Jury Sides With Courtney Love in Trial Over Tweet.”

“Love praised her attorneys and the jury after the verdict. Asked about her social media presence, Love said she refrained from posting on Twitter during the trial,” McCartney said.

Social networking sites and your grade

Think that what shows up on social media is of little consequence? Think again. According to an article titled, “Are Social Networking Sites Good for Our Society?ProCon.org reported:

  • Over 50% of people learn about breaking news on social media
  • 65% of reporters use social media sites in conducting research for their stories
  • 67% of federal, state, and local law enforcement professionals surveyed think that social media helps solve crimes more quickly

But what may grab your attention as a student is the statistics on how social media affects students’ grades. ProCon.org went on to say that students who use social media earned an average grade point average (GPA) of 3.0 compared to the average of 3.82 earned by those students who avoid social media use. Students who use social media while studying scored 20 percent lower on tests.

Liability on the job

After you graduate and get a job, your use of social media may reflect on you and your employer. It could cost you your job. Take the case of University of Kansas journalism professor David Guth, who reacted to a shooting at the Washington Navy Yard by posting a tweet that said, “The blood is on the hands of the #NRA” and “Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters.”

As you can imagine, the tweets ignited a firestorm of controversy that has resulted in a call for funding cuts for the university. Elise Reuter explained the case in her November 5, 2013 article for the Kansas City Star titled, “Social media policies at KU need clarification.”

According to Reuter, Guth posted his thoughts from his personal account so his tweets are protected as free speech. So far the university has supported Guth in that context. Not every employer can be expected to be so tolerant, however.

“Students and professors need to consider the unintended consequences of widely distributed social media. Some students have said that their parents are NRA members, and that the highly politicized nature of Guth’s tweet would potentially turn them away from his classes or put them at a disadvantage if they shared their parents’ position,” Reuter explained.

New rules

Ok, so what should you definitely avoid doing on social media? Stephanie Buck provided a list of “Don’ts” in her September 4, 2012 article for Mashable.com titled, “12 Things Students Should Never Do on Social Media.”

Be sure to memorize the list and take Buck’s final thoughts to heart. “Posting an angry tweet in the heat of the moment may feel cathartic, but the momentary pleasure you get from writing it isn’t worth the potential harm it could create. Take a moment to breathe, think and reboot,” Buck concluded.

What do you think about the legal consequences of posting on social media? Tell us about your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

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