If there's one thing we preach to people getting on Twitter, it's this: Think before you tweet!

That's the message that Gaida Zirkelbach, a West Palm Beach technology and business attorney with Gunster, shared recently at a South Florida Interactive Marketing Association meeting. We spoke with the her about five points she shared at the event to help navigate the potential legal minefield of Twitter.

- Exposing company secrets - Workers can inadvertently send out tweets that convey proprietary or confidential information about the company or its clients.

"A lot of people don't think twice about sending out a tweet," she said, adding this is the most likely culprit in the horror stories she hears.

- Retaliation/wrongful termination - Say you want to fire a worker because they're constantly tweeting about how they're slacking off, or worse, complaining about a boss. If your company doesn't have a formal social media policy, firing over tweets can backfire if that worker sues you for wrongful termination.

- Defamation - This is obvious, but tweets could become the basis for a defamation lawsuit. The offhand criticisms you make about someone could be interpreted as malicious.

- Contracts - Badmouthing about other companies can be dangerous if there's a contract involved. Say your competitor has a deal you would love to have. Zirkelbach says knowingly interfering with that contract - even if the tweets are seemingly lighthearted critiques, or attempts to get business - could one day cause serious legal trouble.

- Trademark infringement - Tweets can misuse, dilute or cause confusion regarding a trademark. Lots of folks are on Twitter posing as celebrities and public figures. Recently, St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa filed a lawsuit against Twitter for allowing someone to tweet offensive messages under his name. Zirkelbach has yet to hear of anyone getting into serious legal trouble with a fake account - usually the name is just taken away and given to the real person.

The point: We get that the lure of Twitter is how fast it works, because that's why we like it. But be careful. Use the same filter for your tweets as you would when having a conversation with your boss or client. It may end up saving you a whole heap of "twouble."

(c) 2009, The Miami Herald.

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