The social media test

Published on
March 17, 2014

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Controversial rock personality Courtney Love broke new ground recently, as the subject of the first-ever Twitter defamation trial.

Policing defamation on a website posting 500 million Tweets per day is practically impossible, and seeing Tweets of this nature is commonplace, however, Love came under scrutiny because of her significant influence.

After the court ruled in her favour, it will be interesting to see if other celebrities (some would argue ‘opinion leaders’) follow suit, or whether “I meant to post it as a private message” will continue to be enough for individuals and brands to escape litigation.

The case serves as a reminder to those using social media that a public online forum can, and often is, subject to laws applicable in other mediums, and it is important to be aware of exactly what these laws are if engaging online.

Recently, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) introduced new regulations around how brands in Australia must behave on social media – applying the same principles used to legislate advertising standards.

Now, not only are brands not allowed to make misleading, false or deceptive claims on their own social media channels, but they are also not allowed to let others make misleading claims in comments on their social media pages.

Effectively, if a brand is aware of misleading comments on its social media pages, they are also responsible for what others say about them in these parameters.

This has an impact on the resources required for brands to monitor these channels, although the ACCC does take into consideration the size of an organisation and its ability to effectively manage a social channel.

It also impacts engagement with online communities. Quite often it is recommended that comments made by stakeholders, even negative comments, are not deleted, but rather a response is made to the post. It is a way to behave transparently as a brand – not to hide anything negative or ignore an issue, but address it appropriately.

However, the ACCC states if the comment is misleading or makes a false statement about a brand, the consumer watchdog may rule that deleting the comment is necessary.

Another scenario to be aware of is paying people to Tweet or post positive comments about a brand, as the South Australia Tourism Commission learnt the hard way in 2012.

Demonstrating the seriousness and prominence of social media, Media Watch exposed the tourist commission for paying celebrities to tweet positive comments, without revealing they were being paid.

While there were no legal ramifications for Tourism SA, the resulting negativity from the online community showed that ‘cash for comment’ is tolerated as little on social media as it is in traditional media.

Even though social media is a relatively new channel – ever-evolving and with less regulation than traditional forms of media – it is still a communication channel. Therefore brands and individuals should behave as ethically and responsibly as they would in all other interactions with customers, clients, stakeholders and competitors.

For assistance with developing a social media strategy for your business, contact Rob Lovegrove, Group Manager Integrated Marketing Communication on (07) 3229 4499 or rob.lovegrove@rowland.com.au