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Are you “truly” covered online?

By Steven Robinson

How to review your insurance policy for social media risk coverage compliance

Today, churches of all sizes are increasingly relying on various forms of new media to connect with their members and donors, not to mention for outreach efforts. Perhaps no two mistrial areas have benefited greater than worship and youth, where the words, images and social interactions work together to form more visceral connections.

As churches continue to use tools such as social media, streaming video and other techniques to enhance their missions, it’s important for administrators to examine not only the benefits, but also the risks — and to make sure their churches’ insurance is keeping pace with this ever-changing risk landscape.

Here, we offer a few suggestions about what to look for when reviewing your insurance policy for social and other media risks.


This is just of several great articles from “Social Media Risk Management: A Starter Kit” — an in-depth eBook from Church Executive. Download the eBook (at no cost) here.


First, a few words about risk
Most churches don’t have the proper policies and procedures for policing content across their entire website and social media footprint. Perhaps the primary church website is reviewed regularly, but what about the “spin-off” sites developed by various ministries throughout the church? Posts across these channels can lead to everything from breaches of a person’s right to privacy (think: communication about a recovery group meeting that identifies specific individuals either via invite, “like” or otherwise), to personal injury (think: unkind posts on Facebook from one student about another student within a youth group), to infringement of intellectual property rights (think: use of a popular worship song playing in the background of a video promoting an upcoming sermon series).

When it comes to risk transfer in this area, traditional insurance policies haven’t kept pace. Breach of privacy is one example of a risk that’s not adequately contemplated in traditional policies.

For instance, there’s often a requirement for “publication” of material that violates a person’s right to privacy in a commercial general liability (CGL) policy.

Is a comment from an outsider on a church’s Twitter feed considered “publication,” — which, by the way, is typically an undefined term in the insurance policy?

Insurance Services Office (ISO) issues the most widely used policy wording that become industry standard for insurance companies to adopt. ISO recently made it very clear (May 2014) with the introduction of several exclusions, further illustrating their intent not to cover these types of risks.

Check your policy in the “Personal and Advertising Injury” section of the CGL. If you see wording such as this, beware.

Typically, you will find exclusions in commercial general liability policies for personal injury that takes place in electronic environments, with specific wording that identifies “electronic bulletin boards” and “chat rooms” as excluded areas.

This effectively eliminates coverage for any libel, slander and defamation in a social media or blog environment. Not good!

CGL policies are also widely known to carry exclusions for violations of copyright and trademark. This coverage gap becomes critical as photographs, artwork, video, music and lyrics form essential elements in communicating a church’s message. It’s bad enough to use these things without permission on a screen in front of 300 people on a Sunday — but posting them on a website for the world to see takes the risk to a whole different level. Typically, the violations are inadvertent; however, the penalties can be no less severe.

Churches need a properly constructed cyber risk policy to contemplate the risks mentioned above. In the media / website liability sections of these policies, it’s important to look for broad definitions of “covered media” and “media activities.”

Make sure “covered media” isn’t limited only to your website, but also extend to websites you might not “own,” but where you manage content — social media sites, for instance.

For churches whose media footprint is more diverse (including live streaming of services and the publishing of extensive written works that might include advertisements), a complete media liability policy that dovetails appropriately with a cyber risk policy might be more appropriate.

Steven Robinson is Area President, Technology & Cyber, at Risk Placement Services, Inc., an Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. division, in Cambridge, MD.


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