Just how effective is that “RTs are not endorsements” statement tacked onto the end of your Twitter bio? Will some version of “views/opinions are my own,” “tweets are mine,” or “opinions belong to me, not my employer,” protect you and insulate your employer from potential social media ruin? The bad news is no, it’s not very effective and won’t offer much protection. The good news? You can reclaim some of the precious 160 characters Twitter makes available for your profile bio. Yay?
Despite the fact that more than 50K accounts have some sort of “legal-ish” Twitter disclaimer in their bio, none of them have any legal effect. Say something stupid, offensive, or otherwise harmful to your employer’s brand and no “RTs ≠ endorsements” will prevent them from showing you the door. Even if you’re on a personal account and not tweeting about work-related matters, if people can link your behavior to where you work (not hard to do these days), then chances are your employer will find out and scramble to repair any damage. There are other rules that govern the circumstances under which an employer can take action based upon your social media activity, some of which can be gleaned from the National Labor Relations Board fact sheet.
If you have such a disclaimer in your bio, chances are you saw someone else do it and thought, “looks like a good idea, better safe than sorry!” But what helps make things safer for you on social media is being clear about your voice, your audience, your influence, and the ways in which messages can be perceived, not a few legal-sounding words. Many people wrapped themselves in the false security of reposting a viral Facebook hoax that purported to declare one’s privacy in the face of the social networking giant’s oft-changing privacy policies. Even though many people knew it was unlikely this “Privacy Declaration” was valid, they shared it anyway because hey, you never know. Well now you do know… there is no privacy declaration on Facebook beyond what you’ve agreed to in using the service and there are no magic Twitter bio words to keep you out of legal hot waters.
Another thing about retweets not equalling endorsements is that actually, sometimes they do. It’s hard to convey that nuance with a few words in your bio so why bother? People who know how to tweet should understand that sometimes RTing means you agree and other times it’s just something you think other people should see, perhaps to laugh at, groan at, or shake your collective heads in disapproval. Following someone on Twitter doesn’t necessarily mean you endorse them either. I follow a certain 2016 presidential candidate who I think is absolutely crazy but I do so to keep an eye on what that person is up to. It’s partly how I gather news on them. Do I endorse them? Of course not. I don’t need a disclaimer to say so either.
However, as an attorney, one particular exception comes to mind. Often, you’ll see a disclaimer in the form of text or a link in the bios of lawyers active on social media. Many times this is mandated by their employers and usually by their state licensing authority as well. The New York Bar, for example, requires that attorneys place an Attorney Advertising disclaimer on everything from websites, mailers, subway advertisements, and social media posts/accounts. It’s important to let the public know that you are not guaranteeing prior results, providing legal advice or creating an attorney-client relationship by sharing information online.* This actually does have a legal and ethical function that carries more weight than the usual “RTs are not endorsements” type of disclaimer. You should check to see if your profession or industry requires specific disclaimers that make a real impact.
So 86 that useless disclaimer and reclaim those characters. Consider adding info to your bio that corresponds with topics you’re an expert in, interested in, or likely to tweet about. Use your bio to convey your authority on a subject. Add some personality by sharing your favorite sports team, mentioning that you’re a parent, or include a link. For more help on crafting a Twitter bio, I recommend A Cynic’s Guide to Writing a Twitter Bio.
*By the way, the information in this post does not constitute legal advice and no attorney-client relationship has been formed based on your use of the information contained herein. Or as I say much more briefly and cheekily on Twitter, “tweets ≠ legal advice, obvy.”