IF YOU have ever gotten any advice about using the Internet and social media, chances are you’ve heard this line:

“Be careful what you put on the Net.”

It’s good advice, and one which, when you think about it, is pretty obvious. We all know by now that anything that goes on the Net remains on the Net.

But while you may have enough common sense not to post inappropriate pictures of yourself on your blog, for example, that doesn’t mean that you realise the things you say might hurt you or be used against you.

This situation has become more serious in the past couple of years as social media became a part of almost everyone’s lives. Often, while using social networks Facebook, Plurk and Twitter, our updates tend to be impulsive and we sometimes do not realise that we are ranting.

Be careful of how you use social media tools.

Be careful of how you use social media tools.

It gets worse – there are also people who are not able to see the context in which you are making your statements (as has been the case with other digital ways of messaging such as via e-mail and SMS) so what you say can also get misunderstood.

Just a couple of days ago in Britain, Paul Chambers, who posted a “bomb threat” on Twitter, lost his appeal against his conviction.

In January, Paul had sent a tweet which read: “Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week … otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!”

For many people (including British actor/writer Stephen Fry, an active Twitter user who has offered to pay Paul’s fine), it was obviously a tweet written in jest, and out of frustration.

For the authorities, however, it was a serious bomb threat.

There have been many incidents where someone’s social network updates have gotten them into trouble. Cases of employees losing their jobs after bad-mouthing employers on the Net or even politicians being suspended from their party (in Birmingham, England, politician Gareth Compton tweeted about stoning a columnist to death) are becoming a common issue.

Then again, there are those out there (like Fry) who are speaking out for all the misunderstood people on social media.

Last week, the National Labor Relations Board – a federal agency in the United States – filed a complaint against a company for firing an employee regarding comments she made about them on Facebook, which included some vulgarities.

According to the NLRB, this is in violation of labour laws in the US which gives rights to an employee to talk about wages and working conditions, among others.

Meanwhile, the Kentucky Bar Association in the US is now looking to regulate lawyers from soliciting for clients via social media networks. Media organisation The Washington Post, is reported to have sent a memo to its staff requesting them not to respond to critics via the company Twitter accounts or speaking on behalf of the company via their personal accounts.

At the other end of the spectrum, a Danish media tribunal recently ruled in favour of protecting the updates of individuals in a case where a journalist had published material from a closed Facebook profile account of the Danish prime minister’s brother.

“Information on closed profiles are reserved to people – the Facebook ‘friends’ – who have been authorised to access the profile,” the Danish Press Council said in a statement.

In the coming days, we can only expect more actions from both sides (those who want to control what is being said on social media, and those who want more freedom).

Whether there will be an eventual winner or if this “conflict” will be resolved remain to be seen.

Does this mean that we should all just stop updating our social networks? Not really; although, I would personally caution you to be a bit more careful and to think before you click the “Submit” or “Send” button.

Yes, it’s the same advice you have probably heard before.

Tell us what you think!

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