Whether you run a busy blog, love sharing your thoughts on social media or have to do a big presentation for work, you should understand the ins and outs of opinion disclaimers. Otherwise, you could end up in some hot water!
Also known as a "views expressed" disclaimer, an opinion disclaimer is a formal written statement that attributes specific information to a certain individual's personal opinion. Like other disclaimers, an opinion disclaimer is designed to limit (or totally eliminate) legal liability.
Opinion disclaimers are used in two different ways:
The first way is when an individual wants to distance his opinions from those of his employer, his professional organizations, any groups he volunteers with, etc.
For example, look at how the owner of Guava Rose worded her opinion disclaimer:
She has set a clear boundary between her personal opinions and the "people, institutions, or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in a professional or personal capacity."
Had she not made this clear, you might read her blog posts and assume that her boss has the exact same views or that everyone she hangs out with at church feels the same way. Thanks to her disclaimer, everyone is on the same page.
The second way to use an opinion disclaimer is when a bigger entity wants to protect itself from individual opinions.
For example, Yelp's disclaimer makes it clear that the opinions listed in their reviews belong solely to the individual posters. That way, it won't look like Yelp is officially endorsing or trashing any particular business:
Angie's List is another popular consumer review website, and they've created an opinion disclaimer in their Service Provider's User Agreement that's similar to Yelp's:
They've made it clear that the member reviews are the sole opinions of the individual members, and they've disclaimed themselves plus all of Angie's List's affiliates and subsidiaries. That means a business owner can't hold them liable for a bad review that a member leaves.
Glassdoor is a website where employees can anonymously leave reviews of their companies and bosses. With all of those opinions floating around, it's obvious that Glassdoor needs a very specific disclaimer.
Here's what they say:
They specifically say they "don't take sides," which means if someone has a problem with an opinion an anonymous employee has shared, they can't hold Glassdoor liable for it.
As another example, SEMeasy is a website where people write articles and participate in forum discussions. As a result, they have an opinion disclaimer that's worded very carefully:
But what if your online presence is just for fun? What if you just rattle off random thoughts? Do you still need an opinion disclaimer?
This image may appear to be over-stating the obvious, but it still has a very important job. A lot of people turn to the internet as a form of stress relief. After that horrendous day at work, that all-nighter with your sick kids, or that nightmare of a commute, venting on your blog or your social media profile might make you feel a whole lot better.
But, unfortunately, this coping strategy also comes with some risks.
Sure, people can probably guess that the posts on your blog or your social media page contain your opinions. But if those opinions are very strong, chances are they're going to draw some attention. Some people are going to love your point of view, and others...well...not so much.
Maybe you've accidentally offended someone so badly that they feel compelled to tell your boss how you're behaving online. Even worse, maybe they'll contact your boss to say that they refuse to do business with a company that hires people who think like you. How do you think your employer would react to that?
Or maybe someone is going to try to bait you into an argument where you say something you regret. It's an unfortunate fact that there are people out there called "trolls" who will purposely say inflammatory things just to start an argument.
Unfortunately, there's no real "delete" button online. Once you post something, it's out there forever. Even if you delete a specific social media update or blog post, someone may have a screenshot of it somewhere.
Simply disabling comments on your blog won't eliminate the problem. Even if someone can't comment on what you've written, they might still get angry enough to screenshot it, tell your boss about it, or do something else that causes you a lot of stress and aggravation.
In other words, once you share your opinions online, you're making them a permanent part of the web and potentially your life.
It's short, sweet, and to the point. For example, some suggested opinion disclaimers on Twitter (or anywhere else where there's a character limit) are:
Or, you can go into a little more detail while still keeping the disclaimer concise. For example, take a look at the disclaimer used on a presentation given by two employees at Dickinson Wright:
While the presenters were there in an official business capacity, they still made sure to put this disclaimer on the first slide of their presentation. That way, it's clear that these are solely their educated opinions.
Over at the Unconservatory, they're careful to use an opinion disclaimer that addresses all of the authors that publish articles on their website, along with each person who posts a comment in their forum:
Opinion disclaimers aren't just used on the world wide web. You'll also see TV shows using them. For example, CNBC's show Futures Now comes with a carefully worded opinion disclaimer that covers every single person who appears on the program:
This disclaimer also mentions NBC Universal, the parent company of CNBC, so that the legal protection goes all the way up the chain of command.
Another creative twist is their use of the words "current opinions." That way, if one of the show's guests changes his mind in the future, viewers were warned that could happen.
Podcasts also come with opinion disclaimers. Here is a very carefully worded disclaimer from the owner of EM Basic, a blog and podcast that discusses what he calls "a boot camp guide to emergency medicine":
Over at The Survival Podcast, host Jack Spirko uses one catchy phrase throughout his disclaimer page -- "one man's opinion."
Here's how he worded one portion of his disclaimer:
In this section of his disclaimer, Spirko reminds us that this podcast is merely "the opinions of one man," so you shouldn't associate any news sources with his opinions.
On The Essential Boomer podcast, host Jim Jensen brings in various guests for interviews. Since he probably doesn't share every single opinion that every single guest has, he needs to word his opinion disclaimer a certain way.
Here's how he did it:
The answer falls into a legal gray area of sorts.
If you work for a private company in the US, you don't have a right to free speech while you're on the clock. There is no constitutional rule that forces private employers to allow or tolerate free speech in the workplace.
However, the confusion comes when employees are off the clock. And that's where the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) comes into play.
The NLRB is an independent federal agency that was created back in 1935 to uphold the rights of workers. One of the NLRB's biggest duties is to make sure that workers can form groups to improve their wages and working duties.
But for our purposes, the NLRB's stance on opinion disclaimers is most important.
In 2014, the NLRB's Division of Judges ruled that the grocery store chain Kroger could not force its employees to post an opinion disclaimer on anything they published online. According to the NLRB, forcing this type of disclaimer would have caused a chilling effect -- meaning that people would be afraid to share their views for fear of what Kroger would do. That's the exact type of thing that the NLRB fights against, which is why they sided with the employees over the employer.
Plus, the NLRB thought that Kroger's policy was way too broad. Because Kroger's rule applied to people who published "any work-related information online," there was a lot of confusion as to what that actually meant. For example, if you "Like" something on Facebook, do you have to write a disclaimer?
However, according the NLRB, employers CAN force their employees to use a disclaimer that says they're not speaking on behalf of their employer when publishing something that specifically relates to their employer. In other words, don't pretend that you're speaking on behalf of the company when you're not!
But things are a little different for federal employees.
Thanks to The Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch, employees can't use their professional titles outside of work. This is because it may make it look like the government is endorsing things when it really isn't. In certain instances -- like being quoted in a professional journal or if the employee is on the awards committee for a professional association, for example -- official titles can be used as long as they're accompanied by this disclaimer:
Want to have some fun with your opinion disclaimer? Inject some creativity into the mix!
The team at ABC Copywriting ventured onto Twitter to see what kinds of opinion disclaimers people were using. They found a couple of funny ones!
Coolsig found some great disclaimers, too, including this one:
Here are some funny opinion disclaimers for Twitter bios that Workology came up with:
While you certainly have a right to your opinions, don't think of an opinion disclaimer as an excuse to say whatever you want without any consequences. Once you publish an opinion online, it's only a few Google searches away from the rest of the world. So the next time you think about going on a rant, make sure you're ok with your words popping up in your personal and professional relationships.
In an article published on LinkedIn, Koka Sexton created a list of opinions that could come back to bite you later:
Just because you say that these opinions are solely your own doesn't mean the people who see them won't form their own opinions about you!