Invisible Boundaries: Expats and Social Media

By: Guest | April 11, 2011 | 

John Falchetto, the serial entrepreneur, has worked on three continents helping other expatriate entrepreneurs to start-up, grow, and succeed in challenging environments all around the world.

Having lived in repressive regimes in the Middle East for more than a decade, I am a big fan of freedom of speech. I first discovered Spin Sucks when Gini Dietrich wrote Why Brogan’s Bigger Ear marketing is wrong, and loved the way she treated Martyn Chamberlin, her critic.

Rules regarding how to deal with others, online or off, are essential. Especially, when many small business owners and multinationals are getting mixed up on what to do online. Once you go abroad what happens?

The bubble

When you live abroad you expect to be out of your comfort zone but with the rise of social media, expat business owners can sometimes think they live in a bubble; a comfortable bubble of friends who understand you and share your views on life, until it all goes wrong.

When I first came to France, I remember feeling slightly awkward holding hands with my wife Ameena in public. An old reflex, but a good example of how the bubble warps your sense of reality in thinking that everyone behaves a certain way.

Can a U.S. blogger living in a foreign country, still claim first amendment rights or should she follow local rules which can restrict your freedom of expression?

Global rules for a global game

While borders disappear for bloggers they also seem to have disappeared for court cases. Bloggers are getting sued globally, a British blogger is taken to court in Australia by a U.S. firm , a Lebanese blogger is sued in Kuwait by a U.S. franchise.

In many cases the state is not the one going after people on social media. There is an increased incidence of global brands suing bloggers for libel. Many countries have now decided that if you can view or download the content locally, there are grounds to sue for libel.

So although you might be protected in the U.S., once you are abroad whose rules should you follow?

Global brands, local rules.

Unfortunately business like politics is local, and global brands follow the local legal culture.

So when a global corporation is using local laws to bully a blogger, is it being ‘sensitive to the local culture’ or just taking advantage of a the local criminal code?

Small expat business owners and large global brands need to define their rules towards interaction on social media and create global social media policies.

A firm or person’s values shouldn’t change depending on their geographic location.

Redefining community rules

Global brands need to recognize that those who are vocal on social media are more important to their market share than another aggressive multinational moving in. Trying to shut them down is not the solution.

Expat business owners navigating social media abroad should be aware of where they live and never forget that behind the social media tools are very real people with cultural sensitivities. Treat readers well and critics even better.

What are your rules for social media behavior?

John Falchetto, the serial entrepreneur, has worked on three continents helping other expatriate entrepreneurs to start-up, grow, and succeed in challenging environments all around the world. As a trilingual, who has embraced more cultures than many ever experience, he provides a unique perspective on succeeding in foreign countries.  His blog is the Expat Life Coach


I think it's about perspective John, overseas or across town. People's ideas and perceptions will vary; I think that's why 'edgy' is so hard, why so many big brands have watered down their ads and messages, why there was so much bland in the last round of Super Bowl ads, can't risk offending anyone or else (see Groupon, though I'm not sure if in the long run they took more than a 'PR' hit). My rules are to keep it real, remain professional and respect others as best I can, no matter where or how I am posting or commenting. FWIW.


I hear what you're saying John. As an expat living in Sweden but blogging and tweeting online globally it is easy to get confused. Which hat am I wearing today? How controversial can I be? Should be interesting to find out. Going out with a slightly controversial guest post on Friday.


John, you look like you need to be in a Bond movie; you have that air of international intrigue about if you could just turn it into money, huh?

I would say the first rule to follow is common sense. However, when you are dealing with different nationalities and cultures it can get a little tricky. I would imagine a good rule of thumb is to at least be sensitive to the culture you inhabit and don't promote ideas that could get you locked up or sued.

It has been interesting following you because most of my experience is not only US based, but deep south as well. In the US we seem to think the world revolves around us. So using that as a frame of reference, you enrich my experience and I appreciate you being part of my group that very much has a United Nations feel to it.

Thanks for sharing and look forward to seeing more of your words of wisdom.

John Falchetto
John Falchetto

@3HatsComm Yes keep it real, we all have some common values in the end. Bill mentioned the differences in the US alone between the North and the South, right there perspectives can change.

Respecting other's opinions and not imposing ours is great way to go Davina. Now if only I could learn all your acronyms :)


@3HatsComm I could not have said it better Davina.

"My rules are to keep it real, remain professional and respect others as best I can, no matter where or how I am posting or commenting. FWIW."

There is much wisdom in these rules Davina - I'm in!

: )

John Falchetto
John Falchetto

@bdorman264 Well if I got a dime for every time I was called a spy, yes I would be a very rich man.

Yes dealing with foreign culture can be tricky. What if the local ideas go against your values (e.g. Google in China), what happens then?

You don't need to go very far in the US to become an expat, the deep south/ North is a good example. At the end of the day, I think it boils down to one thing, there is only one constant across cultures, the power of human relations.

Thanks for stopping by Bill.


@John Falchetto Thanks John! If I do, at least I know someone who can help get me back up on my feet again. ;-)


@John Falchetto @bdorman264 Are you a spy LOL. Just contributing to the pot! It is nice to see you in a more-than-tiny photo John, and yes, you do look like you could be the next Bond!

I'm afraid your topic is WAY over my head.Though I do get: "Treat readers well and critics even better.", not that we're that controversial over at LFI! I'll keep it in mind once we've attracted the attention of critics.

I just wanted to come by and say it's nice to see you featured here at Gini's place. Hi Gini!



@John Falchetto I never thought of it that way John, thanks!

A great week to you too!

John Falchetto
John Falchetto

@Lori Thanks for the feedback Lori, I think we are all controversial in our own way. Living your life to the fullest and not following someone else's model is quite controversial :)

LFI is a great example of what building your own journey really means, forget the naysayers and the self limiting thoughts, define your own life. That is very controversial Lori, most people I know run away from doing such hard work.

Have a great week :)

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