Accidentally Giving Legal Advice Online
Did you know that you could be liable, for tens of thousands of dollars or even hundreds of thousands of dollars for the advice that you give online? I’m talking about when somebody asks a question in a group and you chip in with your two cents worth, it could be that you’re accidentally giving professional advice. If they rely on that advice and lose money or lose an opportunity to make money then they could sue you.
Did you know that if you tell someone to name in shame that restaurant that sold you undercooked pork you could have been encouraging them to do something that amounts to defamation and if they sued for defamation they could come after you. Have you ever told someone, “that letter of demand, you didn’t really infringe that copyright,” or, “just ignore it, then what they’ll never come after you.” That’s legal advice, if you don’t have legal qualification and professional indemnity insurance, if you make a mistake you could be in serious trouble.
Have you ever given casual tax advice? I’m seeing this all the time, I recently saw this in a group I was in. Somebody had asked some web designer to design her website and the designer had done a terrible job, and this person was saying “I don’t know what to do, I’ve paid for it, should I just post the disgusting website here and then everybody see what they think should I name them and shame them?”
The problem with naming and shaming is that as the rhyming words suggest, the purpose of naming them is to shame them and that’s the definition of defamation, if you say something for the purpose of ruining their reputation that could be defamation. I know in some states, truth is a defense to defamation, so if you said that and it’s true you’re fine. But in other countries and in some states in Australia, the truth is not a defense so for example it would be appropriate to take it to mediation or to court to resolve.
But by putting it on Facebook, especially in a public post where you could potentially have it go viral, that could amount to defamation. If you’re the person who said yes, go ahead name and shame, you could be the one who is liable for the legal costs. So if you’re going to give advice online, and I’m not saying don’t interact with people online, but if you’re going to do it make sure that you’re giving people the clear indication or the clear message that you’re not a professional.
Unless of course you are, but if you’re not what you should be saying is “I’m not a lawyer, but if it was me I would ignore it.” That’s fine because that’s your opinion or perhaps “you should get a lawyer, my first instinct would be to ignore it, but I can’t really tell because I’m not qualified.” You have to have a disclaimer in your social media posts, otherwise you could end up getting sued for lots and lots of money. Don’t think that people aren’t going to rely on your advice, why are they asking in the first place?
They are asking because they want to know, and the kind of person that would rely on professional advice from a stranger online might just be the kind of person who would sue that stranger online. Don’t let it be you, I’m Cathryn Warburton, the Legal Lioness thanks for listening.