Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus - do you need social media insurance?
Workers sacked over Facebook posts, a Twitter user arrested and summoned over a bomb threat joke - we've entered a brave new world when it comes to social media and the law, begging the question: do we need social media insurance?
There was a time when you were only published if you had something worth saying. These days, for better or worse, we all have a range of platforms with which to share our every thought.
For example, accountant Paul Chambers found himself before magistrates after venting frustration about a closed airport via Twitter in 2010. He joked about bombing the airport, got arrested under the Terrorism Act and was dragged through the courts.
I also have a friend whose ill-advised attempt at humour on the web landed him in hot water and eventually cost him his job - but I'll spare him the embarrassing details.
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It just goes to show how a harmless tweet or Facebook post can get us into trouble and, in some cases, leave us to foot the bill. But it seems not everyone is convinced.
Surveying 2,000 consumers, the Chartered Insurance Institute found that 67% do not think that posting something inappropriate online could negatively affect their professional life, and 60% don't think that social media could affect their personal life.
So should you, and could you, take out social media insurance to cover your costs if you were to post your way into trouble online?
Here's a look at some key online risks and whether you could get cover for them.
If you publish something online about someone else which is false, damaging to their reputation and visible to a third party, you could (in theory) have a libel case on your hands.
The ins and outs of libel and defamation law are complicated. It's actually up to you to prove you didn't libel the claimant, which can result in lengthy and expensive court proceedings which often get settled outside of court.
If you took out legal expenses cover with your home insurance, you might expect to be covered for defamation - but that may not be the case. AA's Home Legal Expenses Cover, for example, does not insure you against "any legal cause of action involving defamation, slander or libel".
Check your policy wording carefully, but it's unlikely you'll be covered against libel - so be careful what you write about people and companies online, as there are no real insurance products yet available for this specific type of cover.
We used to vent our work frustrations down at the pub among friends, but people are probably more likely to rant on Facebook, Tumblr or Twitter these days.
They're all technically public domains, but unless someone overhears or records you at the pub you're pretty safe.
You only have to search the web for 'fired over Facebook' to see it's a different story on the web.
If you were dismissed over a post on a social network and decided to pursue a claim for unfair dismissal, you may be protected by legal expenses cover on your home insurance. Halifax's Legal Expenses Cover, for example, covers you against "employment issues such as unfair dismissal."
Again, check your policy wording carefully - but you should always be careful what you say about your employer and colleagues online.
Staggeringly, a third of UK divorce petitions filed last year contained the word 'Facebook' according to a survey by divorce-online.co.uk.
Anything which creates a 'paper trail' of movements and communication is likely to increase the chances of a cheating spouse being caught, and social media appears to be doing just that. Throw in location-based services and it's possible for a suspicious partner to build up a strong case against a potentially unfaithful partner.
Whatever the cause, divorce proceedings are very expensive and legal expenses cover rarely covers the cost of divorce proceedings.
Imagine coming home to find your teenage children have: 1) thrown a house party and 2) unwittingly invited the entire world because they forgot to restrict the invite visibility to their Facebook friends only.
A Dorset family's home was reportedly besieged by 400 gate crashers in April after details of a 16th birthday party went public, resulting in smashed windows, doors and fences.
If it happened to you and the damage had been caused intentionally, you could claim on your home insurance as it would be a criminal offence - but proving criminal intent could be difficult, especially if the invite was technically open to the public.
It might be sensible to add accidental damage cover to your home insurance to protect you against drinks spilled down the back of your TV or stereo and perhaps legal expenses cover in case a gate crasher gets injured and has the gall to take legal action against you.
Better still, issue a stern warning before you leave the little darlings home alone and lock up any valuables out of sight if possible.
Since we started using the web for shopping and banking, we've been handing over more and more personal and financial details online. Ever the opportunists, criminals have always attempted to steal those details and so identity theft has become a problem.
You can pay around £10 a month for identity fraud cover, but there's actually very little the insurer can do which you couldn't do yourself for free if your ID was stolen.
This type of cover won't reimburse you for any money you're defrauded out of; it just covers things like legal fees associated with sorting the mess out.
As long as the theft wasn't the result of your own negligence, your bank has to refund you for any money lost through fraud anyway, thanks to The Banking Code.
Hit and miss
While we wait for the insurance industry to catch up with the rest of digital age, insurance products are a little hit and miss when it comes to the web and social media.
Websites like Facebook and Twitter have certainly created new insurance risks, but there's no such thing as social media insurance and we're only able to protect ourselves with traditional policies not built for these kinds of things.
If you simply can't help yourself, tweak your privacy settings to control who can see your posts.
On Twitter, you can make your tweets private and on Facebook you can customise who sees your posts, so if you're going to moan about your boss you can ensure they or any of your colleagues can't see it.
Of course there's no better protection than simply exercising a bit of restraint and thinking before you tweet, comment or 'like'.