Social media is now mainstream and businesses as well as
individuals need to be wary of its legal ramifications.
The Advertising Standards Board has ruled that a company's
Facebook page set up to promote its brand or product is an
advertisement, and must comply with all the rules and regulations
that govern traditional forms of advertising.
Following that ruling, the Australian Competition and Consumer
Commission warned large corporations that use Facebook to promote
their products that they should take down misleading or
inappropriate comments left by the public within 24 hours or
Many people post comments on a Friday evening or on weekends, so
it would be wise for a company to maintain a watch on their social
media beyond normal work hours.
The ACCC said small and medium sized businesses that have a
Facebook page should monitor it at least every few days and take
down anything posted that isn't appropriate.
This includes any statement that is misleading or deceptive
about the firm's product.
The Federal Court recently fined a business that marketed
allergy treatments and its director $7,500 each for failing to
remove testimonial claims about its products on its website,
Twitter, YouTube and Facebook that were false, misleading and
Justice Finkelstein said that while it could not be proved that
the company posted the glowing testimonials itself, the company
failed to remove them when it knew they breached advertising
"This outcome confirms that any business that decides to
leave public testimonials or other comments on their Facebook or
Twitter pages will be held responsible if they are false,
misleading or deceptive," Justice Finkelstein said.
Facebook says it will remove threats of violence, bullying,
harassment, hate speech, claiming to be another person and will
respect legal rights.
But there are more reasons for a business to closely monitor
their Facebook page. Sadly, some individuals use the anonymity and
distance of social media to post abusive, defamatory, racist,
sexist and hate-filled attacks. Disgruntled employees or customers
can post false and damaging complaints against a firm or people
within the firm.
Consumer complaint websites set up to name and shame companies
are mostly based overseas. While some may be fair comment, it can
be very difficult or impossible to get these websites to take down
unfair or even defamatory personal comments that hurt people's
businesses or livelihoods.
Increasingly victims are taking legal action for defamation
against carriers of the offending websites if search engines fail
to remove the links.
One Australian search engine has reportedly been successfully
sued after it provided a link that incorrectly claimed a Melbourne
man was part of the criminal underworld.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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