Social Media

Five Legal Concerns With Instant Messaging

Instant messaging has reached critical mass, with most people having at least heard of it. It’s so widespread that even those who have never used it before probably have a preferred app they use to keep in touch with pals.

Despite its usefulness, instant messaging can raise a few legal difficulties that you should be aware of. The knowledge of these concerns and challenges will help you avoid many unwanted implications especially that can cost you money or reputation.

1. Instant messaging legal issue: Defamation

If you post defamatory information online, you may risk civil and/or criminal responsibility. Defamation is a tort. It is a worldwide phrase that may be split into two categories: libel and slander. Australia has removed the libel/slander distinction. A defamatory comment causes a person to be ostracised or avoided by members of society.

Libel is a term that relates to defamation through writing, pictures, broadcasts, or published works. It is often permanent; however, in England, defamatory remarks spoken in theatre are considered libel. Slander is a term that relates to defamation that occurs through voice, noises, sign language, or gestures—typically more impermanent or transitory interactions. It is not always straightforward to determine whether a speech constitutes libel or slander.

However, there is a legal distinction between libel and slander. Libel is actionable without proving damages, but slander requires the slanderer to establish particular damages. There are four exceptions to the slander rule where a person can sue without establishing damages. The first is when public remarks accuse someone of committing a crime punishable by jail.

The second circumstance is when a person is said to have a highly contagious sickness. The other two categories include that a person cannot do their trade or business or is sexually unchaste. In the slander above instances, the victim needs to show publication. In Commonwealth nations, a defamatory comment is published when a third party first hears it. This implies that if you post something on the internet that is defamatory, the defamed individual can sue you in their country’s courts. In reality, it relies on numerous things.

It’s easy to forget that using instant chat defamation is a crime. If the victim shows that your online communication was broadcast to a third party, you may be charged with defamation or one of the following categories. If the victim were alone when the statement was received, there would be no legal concerns, but if a third party was present when the message was delivered, you might be held liable for defamation.

Asynchronous instant messages (AIM) are comparable to email and other electronic communications like postings to forums and Usenet groups, except they are transmitted via a host computer and kept permanently on a hard drive. If they are defamatory, they are libellous. However, a message sent by instant messaging, internet relay chat, or video messaging would likely be considered slander because the user is engaging in an instantaneous real-time synchronous conversation, similar to a phone call.

Like email, internet messaging now allows for video and/or audio transmission. These immediate and interactive conversations have the same legal status as telephone communications, but when attached to a tangible medium and presented to a larger audience, they may be libellous. Users who make defamatory statements over IM may assume they are not subject to the same laws as email or other internet usage. However, the person who posts a message over IM may be liable for defamation. Messages sent using internet messaging (IM) are saved in a local message history and may be accessed.

2. Invasion of Privacy-public disclosure of private facts

Even if an IM isn’t derogatory, it may be seen as an invasion of privacy or a breach of confidence in some jurisdictions. The legal concerns will vary on the jurisdiction’s legislation, but if the person you are communicating with has a legitimate expectation of privacy and believes they are only corresponding with one person, you may have legal issues. Invasion of privacy has no defence of truth. If a victim establishes that you have disclosed private information through your online communications, you may face legal difficulties (IM).

Instant Messaging (IM) conversation transcripts are considered electronically stored information (ESI) and are treated similarly to emails and other electronic documents for discovery purposes. Most jurisdictions consider IMs like e-mails for purposes of discovery.
In some cases, a user may be sued if a third party present at the time of the instant messaging (IM) sends a subpoena for the data. Many text or instant messaging users misunderstand that communications sent over instant messaging or mobile phones are erased after being sent. However, most service providers keep text and instant messaging records for one to three months.

3. Cyberharassment and Stalking

An online Instant Messaging IM user can become a victim of cyber harassment, stalking, or misuse of telecommunication networks which can constitute a criminal offense. Employers and individuals need to protect themselves from legal issues from instant messaging, which is misused. The same is true of other electronic communications. However, instant messaging (IM) is possibly more susceptible to misuse involving cyber harassment, discrimination, online hate speech, bullying, and stalking due to its immediate, informal and intrusive nature.

A user must know how to report an abusing IM user and ban them from sending inappropriate messages. Instant messaging screen names may be changed, like email addresses. This internet communication channel permits direct real-time conversations between employees and organisations without considering legal difficulties when creating acceptable email use rules. These platforms are more informal than emails, making them more prone to sexual harassment, cyberbullying, and other abusive communications.

The legal issues surrounding the use of IM were widely publicized when former congressman Mark Foley was found to have sent explicitly sexual instant messages (IM) to house pages and persons under 18 from his congressional office personal computer. The scandal led to concerns about legal issues and warnings about the legal consequences of inappropriate internet messages.

Businesses have a legal responsibility under occupational health and safety workplace laws to provide a safe work environment free of harassment, discrimination, and other illegal conduct. An organisation needs instant messaging (IM) management tools to deal with the legal issues posed by the use of internet messaging IM in the corporate environment. A survey conducted in 2007 revealed that 30% of participants had been recipients of inappropriate instant messaging communications.

4. Security Risks & Compliance Risks

Security experts believe hackers favour IM for phishing and virus-infected files. Viruses, trojans, and malware may spread quickly via friend lists. Instant messaging (IM) can waste corporate time, resources, and assets, when employees utilise it for personal reasons at work or, are unaware of its security issues. Text-based IM is more prone to eavesdropping, and passwords are recorded in text, so anybody with access to the user’s computer may see them. Many IM programmes don’t support password encryption.

Additionally, instant message software demands that the user open UDP ports to the world, which enhances security threats. The use of Instant messaging (IM) solutions in the workplace give rise to legal issues in terms of compliance with data security, storage, and retention laws. Business communications in most jurisdictions must be archived and able is retrieved under regulations. Many organisations may not appreciate the legal issues and the requirement to preserve instant messages.

5. Leakage of embarrassing information, company intelligence or intellectual property 

Security specialists have identified instant messaging (IM) as the primary technique for hackers to perform phishing attacks and spread computer virus files. Viruses, trojans, and malware may swiftly spread across an infected user’s friend list on an instant messaging service. Instant messaging (IM) can waste a company’s time, money, and assets if employees use it to talk to their friends during work hours or if they don’t know how internet messaging services can pose security risks. Because most IM is conducted via text, it is more susceptible to eavesdropping. Because user passwords are saved in text, they are available to anybody with physical access to the user’s computer. Encrypting the password on many instant messaging software apps is not possible.


In conclusion, instant messaging applications can be both beneficial and detrimental. Numerous users can benefit from these applications’ convenience, quickness, and low cost. Users can become susceptible to threats such as cyberbullying, privacy breaches, and the misuse of personal information if they lack the necessary knowledge and precautions. It is essential to always be cautious when using instant messaging apps and to take precautions to protect your information.

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