14

A larger number of twitter accounts have a biography stating that tweets are their own opinion not that of their company. An example:

Opinions are my own and not the views of my employer

Does this actually protect the employee from being reprimanded because of a tweet?

I've done some research and the only semi-reputable site I could find is this Forbes article stating that a disclaimer will not protect you. However when researching the attorney they quoted, Dan Schaeffer, I find nothing other than the bio posted on his firm's website.

  • 9
    Perhaps the employers have policies requiring those disclaimers. If so, including the disclaimer protects the employee from being reprimanded for failing to include the disclaimer. – phoog Dec 9 '16 at 23:11
  • You should tag the country you're asking about. Law varies a lot across the world. – Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 11 '16 at 14:45
  • @phoog The only company where I worked that had any policies about social media had exactly that requirement. – gnasher729 Jan 4 '18 at 23:40
14

That's the danger of doing legal research on the internet. That Forbes article quotes several different attorneys, and they all make the point of saying that those disclaimers are meaningless copy/pasta that is all over the Internet, and they won't protect for a few different reasons.

You can either take their advice, or the explanations here on Law SE; or, if you want a answer that you can be sure of and will be backed by a lawyer, talk to a lawyer yourself for their opinion.

In any event, one reason those disclaimers are meaningless is that although what someone tweets may not constitute prima facie defamation ( https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/defamation-law-made-simple-29718.html ), an employer can still find a reason to fire you anyway for tweeting what makes them look bad.

Basically, if any of your conduct -- both online and off -- is deemed harmful to your company’s brand or reputation, it pretty much has the right to give you the ax. Your views? Still your own. Your job? Not so much. http://www.forbes.com/sites/nolanfeeney/2013/06/11/twitter-disclaimers-views-my-own-retweets-not-endorsements-social-media-law/#5a5df2df198f

If a tweet does defame - in other words, presents provably false facts about someone, with or without negligence or malice (and public figures have more of a burden of proof than private citizens, where actual malice must be proven) - then of course, no boilerplate about something being your opinion will protect you. That's called libel (or libel per se, when libel is clear on its face, without the need for any explanatory matter) and the person could get sued in civil court. (Libel laws differ from state to state - and some states have criminalized libel - but very generally follow the 1st Amendment). See https://www.eff.org/issues/bloggers/legal/liability/defamation

Twitter isn't really responsible; they are protected as only the service and the messenger, not the message. The tweeter him/herself bears the brunt of a libel action. http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/explainer/2012/11/libel_on_twitter_you_can_be_sued_for_libel_for_what_you_write_on_facebook.html

Update 12/09/16: Regarding the employer in this type of situation (from comments): "(a disclaimer) does give the employer a stronger defence to legal action.... a court would look at the entire circumstances in deciding if the employee was an agent of the employer or not."

  • "if you want a answer that you can be sure of and will stand up in court, talk to a lawyer yourself for their opinion." - so no lawyer ever has a judge's decision go against them? – Dale M Dec 9 '16 at 21:53
  • Dale, Good point; my word choice in that sentence was off. – BlueDogRanch Dec 9 '16 at 21:57
  • 12
    A disclaimer would not protect the employee who posts it, but I would expect that it could protect the employer from the (remote) possibility that someone might believe the person was speaking on behalf of the employer and sue the employer for defamation on that basis. Such a lawsuit might not get very far if the employer had no control over the employee's conduct, but a disclaimer may preempt it entirely. – supercat Dec 9 '16 at 23:36
  • 1
    This answer appears to be specific to the USA. – Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 11 '16 at 14:45
  • 2
    LRIO: my answer is specific to the US; the OP is in the US, and Twitter is a US company. A global answer would require a dissertation. If you want a specific answer pertaining to other countries, ask a new question. – BlueDogRanch Dec 11 '16 at 20:47
16

The purpose of that disclaimer is not to prevent reprimands or legal action. It's really as simple as it appears -- it's to inform the readers that the tweets in fact contain the opinion of the person who wrote them and are not intended to be understood as the official position as that person's employer. This is especially important for people who occasionally or frequently convey their employer's official position.

It's not supposed to be some kind of magic word that causes something to happen. It's just an attempt to convey accurate information and avoid misunderstandings.

7

No, it doesn't protect the employee from reprimand or legal action, however, it does give the employer a stronger defence to legal action.

The employee is stating that they are "on a frolic of their own" and a plaintiff could not rely, as they normally could, that the acts on an employee are the acts of the employer. Of course, this would only be one piece of evidence and a court would look at the entire circumstances in deciding if the employee was an agent of the employer or not.

2

Most USA employees are "at will" employees (Montana is an exception, they don't have "at will"), their employers do not need to construct a legal case for firing them, anything goes except a few covered causes like discrimination, whistleblowing or exercising such rights as jury duty.

So in many cases it is downright irrelevant whether this disclaimer has any legal weight, if your tweet displeases your employer enough they will terminate you at their will, exactly what it says on the tin.

  • And non-USA employees? The USA is just one country out of a hundred and ninety-six. – Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 11 '16 at 14:45
0

These statements "Opinions are my own and not the views of my employer" serve several purposes that make them not useless.

First, they state a fact - as a reader, I am told that this is not the opinion of the company but the private opinion of someone who happens to be an employee. That's useful information for me, knowing that the company will not be held to any promises this employee made, for example.

Second, it protects the company to some degree. With this statement, nobody can claim that the company is responsible for anything posted.

Third, this protects the employee to some degree. Since posts with such a disclaimer are less likely to cause legal problems for the company, the company is less likely to hold the employee responsible for causing these problems.

Fourth, many companies have a policy that employees should include such a disclaimer, at least if they say anything related to the company. So posting without the disclaimer might be enough to cause trouble with his company for the employee.

Of course, this is not 100% protection. The company won't like it if you say negative things about them.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.