Social Media and Your Legal Liability22 Sep 2012
A recent decision by Australia's Advertising Standards Board should concern any business that has a Facebook page but does not pay attention to it. YOU may be legally responsible for what what other people post on your Facebook wall. Yes, you read that correctly.
How did this come about? The ASB was responding to a complaint about the Smirnoff Vodka Facebook page where comments were posted by fans that were "obscene, sexist, racist and depicted irresponsible drinking". Smirnoff did not remove these comments. The ASB decided that comments on a Facebook page are the same as comments on an advertisement and so are the responsibility of the advertiser.
So what does that mean to you? A lot. It means that you are now responsible for what appears on your Facebook wall even if you didn't write it. There are still a lot of details to be worked out here, but I recommend that if you have a company Facebook page then start moderating it regularly and treat comments as if they were made by you. That is, if you would not have said it then remove it immediately.
But why not close comments on your Facebook page? You could and that would protect you. What it would also do is remove the ability for the majority of people who are fans to post nice comments about your company or join in a discussion in a fruitful and meaningful way. That's not very "social" and as such will destroy any benefits from using these powerful networks.
What about other Social Media platforms? This isn't clear at the moment. You have no control over what is said on Twitter so that is probably safe. Other Social Media platforms like Pinterest that allow comments to be added to your posts could have the same responsibility implied. Keep an eye on them as well.
I will be monitoring this and will update if any new information becomes available. It appears to me that Facebook is going to be a legal, moral and ethical battleground over the next few years. Combine that with Facebook's need to start making money for its investors and the days of taking advantage of "free" Social Media are coming to an end.
For reference, here are some original news articles about this topic:
Social media pages are 'ads'
Social media poses problems for beverage maker
Business is drunk if it thinks it doesnt have to police Facebook