Is your Facebook account really yours?

Privacy, News, Rights

Who owns your Facebook account? You or your employer?

The answer may not be as obvious as you think.

Several courts have held that our social media pages, which most of us consider personal, could end up belonging to our employers.

A South Carolina business sued a former employee for taking 17,000 Twitter followers with him when he left the company. Though the case was later settled, the company probably had a viable claim if those Twitter followers were obtained while the employee was tweeting for the company, just as products developed for the company during the employee’s service would belong to the company.

Likewise, courts might rule your social media pages could go to the new business owners in the event of a bankruptcy.

After losing his gun store in a Chapter 11 proceeding, Jeremy Alcede found himself in jail for refusing to divulge Facebook and Twitter account passwords to the new owners, claiming those accounts were personal and not related to his business. But the bankruptcy judge sided with the new owners, likening the accounts to customer lists. The judge pointed out that Mr. Alcede had posted about attending gun shows in an apparent attempt to drive business to his store, and so ordered him to turn over his passwords to the new owners. He proceeded to spend seven weeks in jail while fighting the case.

Tips for holding on to your social media pages

Most of us cringe at the idea of turning over our social media passwords and accounts to an employer or someone who takes over our business. To avoid that drastic outcome, I recommend:

  1. Keep your professional and business social media pages separate. Have a Facebook account that you use to connect with friends and family, then a professional page for work matters. (This is a good idea anyway because your professional page can have unlimited followers and will give you data on what posts are engaging your followers; your personal page is limited to 5,000 friends.)
  2. Link from one page to another as you like but keep the pages separate and distinct.
  3. Don’t use the company name as part of your online name. If your Twitter handle is “SuzyatGoogle” what happens when you leave Google?
  4. Use privacy settings if you’re posting updates on your personal pages that you don’t want your boss or customers to know about. (Though I recommend not ever posting pictures or text you wouldn’t want the world to see anyway.)
  5. Talk to your boss or business partners about their expectations regarding your social media. If they take the position they own it, start your own private accounts.

Though it seems nuts that someone else would own your social media accounts, courts broadly protect American companies and their right to own the work product of people working for them. As long as courts see social media as access to customers, they’ll likely continue to hold that companies own social media pages of their former workers.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Avvo.