What is Your Family’s Social Media Liability?

social media Liabilitiy

As social media use becomes increasingly ingrained in our daily lives, the potential for something we post to be taken out of context or misconstrued is only going to increase. When adults are being sued for negative yelp reviews and parents are being held liable for their child’s Facebook use, it seems the more active your family is on the Internet—and particularly social media—the greater the potential you could have to defend yourself from a lawsuit.

Just take cyberbullying, for example. A recent study found 43% of teens were victims of cyberbullying the previous year. A Google search for “cyberbullying lawsuit” results in 276,000 results, pointing to specific suits filed in California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Tennessee, Texas, and elsewhere.

For parents the risks associated with social media use are magnified due to several factors. Children, especially teenagers, often have multiple social media accounts, are the most active of users and the earliest adopters of new technologies. These factors when combined with a lack of understanding for the permanence and potential repercussions of information they share can lead to significant problems for parents.

Since there is no exact formula for determining the exact amount of risk you face, the key is to understand what you could be liable for and just how serious these risks can be.

During a recent conversation about liability and social media use, Joe Clark of Willis Private Client mentioned, “Most people aren’t aware of the risk they face from children posting, tweeting, and blogging. Unrealized risks like Internet and social media—especially for the affluent—are some of the most often overlooked areas of personal risk programs.”

Not Everyone’s Risk is the Same

For those in prominent positions or in professions considered high earning, it is exponentially more important to take steps to mitigate as much of the risk as possible. In today’s litigious society, paying to defend you or your family from a mere accusation could easily exhaust the limits of even a high-end homeowner’s policy. It is important to take a concrete look at how much risk you are willing to accept. An in-depth look at your assets, liabilities, and earnings potential provide a basis for calculating your risk potential.

Covering Your Family’s Risk

In addition to mitigating your family’s social media risk, it is important to consider a cost-benefit analysis of proper insurance coverage. One of the most cost-effective ways to ensure you and your family are protected is through purchasing excess liability coverage. This type of coverage is most often referred to as a “personal umbrella.”

Before you decide to purchase any insurance policy, it is important to understand what you are buying. For a “personal umbrella,” it is important to understand that this type of coverage is secondary. This means it requires you having primary insurance such as a homeowners or renters policy. The reason it is called a “personal umbrella” is that it sits over your primary insurance policies.

Since it is supplemental, it works when the limits of the primary policy have been exhausted. For this reason, it is important to understand the relation between the limits on your primary insurance and excess liability coverage. The coverage on personal excess policies does not start until the underlying limit has been reached. In this instance, it is extremely important to match your primary policy limit to your umbrella limit, so no gap in coverage exists.

The coverage offered under personal excess liability policies varies. One important item to consider is whether or not the money for defense is included within the coverage limit or is separate.

Family Social Media Policy

While insurance coverage is great, the best way to protect you and your family is to adopt a family social media policy. A family social media policy can include a number of items but most of all, you should look to establish what is ok to be shared and what type of information needs to remain private. Below are a few best practices to consider when establishing a family social media policy.

Additional Steps to Protect Your Family on Social Media

  • Use the privacy settings on social networks
  • Use strong passwords – (12 characters, include numbers, symbols, capital and lower-case letters)
  • Talk to your kids about the dangers of social media, emphasizing that once something is posted, is there forever.
  • Consider establishing family rules to govern social media use
  • Regularly check your child’s privacy settings
  • Keep your security software, operating systems, and firewalls up to date.

The fact that a lifetime of work and assets could be wiped out with one settlement, is a very real possibility. Start by assessing your family’s potential for risk. Take steps to mitigate the risk by incorporating social media best practices. Finally consider the benefits of how a properly designed personal risk program can protect you and your loved ones.

About Kevin O’Brien

Kevin O’Brien is Client Services Coordinator for Willis Personal Lines, responsible for that practice's marketing…
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