This Guest Blog Post was provided by Jamie White, Solicitor, Director and Owner of Pod Legal. Pod Legal exclusively practice in the areas of Intellectual Property, Technology and Social Media Law and have offices in South Brisbane and Melbourne.
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The law is never far behind brands and businesses that treat anything as a free-for-all and social media is no exception.
Social media has made inroads into our lives so rapidly that the ‘real’ world seems to struggle keeping up with how Facebook and other social networks have so dramatically changed the way – and speed – with which we communicate.
Worried parents try to control access to it, governments endeavour to harness it, revolutions and riots are fuelled by it and businesses wrestle with operating in a ‘world’ where the consumer is king and one wrong move can result in a very public loss of reputation.
And slowly regulators, legislators and lawyers are grinding into action to apply ‘real’ world principles to what at times seems like a lawless other country (in fact Federation Facebook would be the third largest populated country on the planet).
As each new social media related ruling is passed, it’s clear that Facebook and other social media platforms are not in another world operating outside the law or laying down their own, which means businesses have legal liabilities when it comes to social media – and those liabilities will be increasingly monitored and enforced.
In recent weeks, the Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) issued a key ruling that brands were responsible for any content posted in their social media communities in response to a complaint about comments written by fans on Victoria Bitter and Smirnoff’s Facebook pages.
The ASB looked at comments about: “Sexism, racism and other forms of discrimination or vilification; Irresponsible drinking and excessive consumption; Obscene language; Depiction of under-25 year olds consuming alcohol; and Material that connects alcohol consumption with sexual or social prowess”. The ASB ruled that brands had a liability when it comes to what fans and followers write on their Facebook pages.
A week later, consumer and competition watchdog the ACCC re-enforced the ASB statement by saying it would pursue businesses and brands that do not monitor and remove misleading or false fan generated claims on Facebook through the courts.
The fact is, while social media may have grown quickly, it has not done it in a legal vacuum. Far from feeling overwhelmed or uncertain, businesses must remember one simple rule of thumb; the same laws apply to social media as apply in the paper-based world.
And just like the law in the ‘real’ world, prevention is better than litigation, especially when there are some simple steps businesses can take to make sure they are meeting their social media legal liabilities. Here are a few handy tips:
1. Monitor your social media pages for unsubstantiated content – delegate staff members to monitor and set out a schedule for how often they do it. The ACCC also stated large businesses have 24 hours to remove comments, but SMBs would be given more grace.
2. Correct misleading comments quickly. Have a system in place that details how potentially misleading comments are dealt with so you can do so with speed. Nominate key decision-makers and make sure they are available on a roster basis.
3. Provide specialist social media training on what legal liabilities apply, make sure employees are updated when new rulings or precedents emerge.
5. Integrate appropriate legal terms and conditions in to your social media pages. Try to avoid seeking legal advice when it is too late, lay the foundations of a ‘legal’ social media presence from the start.
Want to know more about the legal updates related to Facebook and what they mean for you and your business? Jump on a free webinar being offered by Pod Legal and The Creative Collective on Wednesday 5 September at 12:30pm. Registrations essential.