Laws about Posting on the Internet and Social Media

What Can or Can’t People Post Online?

Photo by Erik Lucatero on Unsplash

This page is part of our Guide to Laws about the Internet and Social Media.

Can I post someone else’s picture, video, or writing on my social media?

First of all, just because someone is in a photo or video does not mean that is their photo or video. Generally someone owns a photo or video when they take or shoot the photo or video. For issues regarding the person or people in a photo or video, see our Guide to Privacy and the Internet.

For more information about when someone owns a photo, video, or other creative work, see our Guide to Creative Work.

In general you can’t use or distribute someone else’s content without their permission. But simply retweeting, or clicking “share” under a Facebook post or other social media is most likely fine, as most social media Terms of Service say that by posting something, a user grants others a license to share it.

If someone has NOT put their work on a social media, it’s probably not OK to do it for them.

You can’t take, re-use, adapt, or build on someone else’s content without their permission, unless it it considered “fair use.” If you can’t get the creator’s permission, stating who created the work (“attribution”) and linking to the creator’s website is a very good idea. Although even doing this, your post could still violate the creator’s rights. But it’s up to the creator of the content to decide whether to enforce their rights.

Be sure to see our full Guide to Laws about Creative, Artistic, and Business Work in the United States

Is my employer allowed to restrict my right to use my personal social media on my own time?

An employer can’t really restrict your use of social media on your own time, with some exceptions. If you post something that negatively implicates the employer, or complain about your employer on Facebook, etc., they may be able to legally fire you.

But you DO have the right to use social media for the purpose of getting coworkers to join together to address work-related issues and share information about pay, benefits, and working conditions.1National Labor Relations Act For more on this, see our Guide to the Law for Employees, or the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).2NLRB

Can I be fired for what I post online?

As discussed above, if you complain about your employer online, they can probably legally fire you. As for more general political speech or activities online, it varies significantly by state. See Guide to Employee Rights and Guide to Free Speech for more.

Is it illegal to make threats on social media?

It is illegal to use social media to make a serious threat to harm or kidnap another person. The penalty is up to 5 years in prison.318 U.S. Code Sec 875(c) But the person making the threat must actually intend it as a threat, rather than simply “expression.” Otherwise it may be protected by as “free speech” by the 1st amendment.

See more about Harassment.

Can a government official block people from viewing or commenting on their social media account?

No. See our Guide to Free Speech for an explanation.

User generated content: Is a website or social media platform (like facebook) legally responsible for the comments or posts by its users?

Generally, no, a website, social media, or other online platform cannot be held legally responsible for posts, comments, etc by its users which may violate various laws. See more about this at our page on user-generated content.

Are deepfakes illegal?

A “deepfake” is a video or image that has been altered (usually by artificial intelligence) to distort the way something looks or sounds. See our Guide to Laws about AI.

Related Pages

Guide to Laws about the Internet

Guide to Laws about Technology

Guide to Laws about AI


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