UK: Five Vital Questions On The Implications Of UK Law On Social Media

Last Updated: 31 March 2015
Article by Susan McLean

Chevy Kelly, a partner in the UK-based Social Media Leadership Forum, recently sat down with Socially Aware's own Sue McLean, a Social Media Leadership Forum member, to discuss the legal implications of UK companies' use of social media as part of their marketing strategies.

Chevy Kelly: In your opinion, what are the top three legal risks that organizations in the United Kingdom face when engaging in social media?

Sue McLean: Compliance with relevant advertising and marketing rules is a key priority. All relevant rules, whether it's the CAP Code, unfair trading regulations, FCA promotions rules, are concerned with organizations treating the customer fairly and being transparent. Companies will be experienced with applicable rules in terms of traditional media but, of course, social media brings its own challenges, including space/character limitations and the immediacy element of social media bypassing the time for review and approval protocols built into "old media" usage.

Data protection is also a key challenge. Whether you're collecting personal information from customers via your social media channels, mining data from social media platforms or carrying out Big Data analytics, you need to ensure that you comply with relevant privacy laws. If you're a global business, unfortunately that means a myriad of different laws. It's not just a question of compliance. Showing that you take customers' data seriously will help build trust; it may even help give you a competitive advantage.

Lastly, companies need to continue to focus on social media policies and the education and training of employees. Given the rate of change, companies really need to regularly review their policies and practices. New platforms can trigger new issues, as we have seen with instant messaging, as well as visual, anonymous, self-deleting platforms. Get social media right and employees can be fantastic brand ambassadors; but get it wrong and their activity could result in damage to your reputation and potentially legal or regulatory action.

CK: Are UK lawmakers able to keep up with the rate of change and disruption in the digital era and how are they coping to legislate for every scenario?

SM: No. Given the rate of technological change we have seen over the past decade and are continuing to see (whether it's social media, Big Data, the Internet of Things, drones, etc.), the law is always playing catch-up; it's virtually impossible for the lawmakers to keep up.

Also, it often takes so long to bring in a new law, that by the time it's adopted it may be out of date. By way of example, the long-awaited Data Protection Regulation was proposed back in 2012 to reflect technological changes, including social media—but is still being debated in Europe and, even if it is finalized this year, there will be a transition period of two years before the law applies.

But it's not always a case of bringing in new laws. Often it's about interpreting how existing laws can apply to new platforms. That's certainly the approach the FCA has taken (at least up until now) with respect of the use of social media by financial organizations, the approach that their rules are media neutral and apply to social media in the same way as they apply to traditional media. It's also the approach the government has taken to trolling and other malicious behavior via social media—that the framework of laws we have are fit for purpose in this digital age (even if they were designed in a world before social media, e.g., to apply to poison-pen letters).

And, of course, while laws are inherently national, social media is a global phenomenon. Unless laws are very closely harmonized (which they are not), social media users face uncertainty because of different approaches to law and regulation in the key countries.

CK: Would you say that large organizations are taking the legal risks surrounding social media as seriously as other traditional communications channels?

SM: I'm not sure it's a case of not taking the legal risks of social media seriously. I think it's more a case of organizations being less experienced with social media generally, and that includes legal and compliance departments. If social media is being run out of a marketing/communications team then they will be very experienced with the legal risks of traditional media. But social media triggers new, different types of risk and both the marketing/ communications team and the legal and compliance teams are trying to figure out how to handle those risks.

And, of course, not all social media platforms are the same, and we are getting new platforms all the time. Companies may have become just about comfortable with Facebook and Twitter, but now they have to deal with, say, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat. And that's just in the West; if you are a global organization, it's likely that you have to deal with a variety of platforms across the different regions.

Of course, it's not just a question of using social media to promote your business and interact with customers. If you've implemented an enterprise social media platform for your employees, that throws up a whole host of other issues.

CK: If you were to reference an example to give a wake-up call to an organization that may be laid-back in their attitude to social media governance, what would it be?

SM: There are a lot of examples I can point to where companies' social media activity has ended up making headlines for all the wrong reasons. For example, the HMV case where the company didn't take sufficient control of its Twitter account and employees managed to send a series of angry tweets before the company took control. In fact, I expect that a lot of companies still don't put enough focus on social media in the context of insolvency and crisis management. It's not just a question of implementing proper social media governance to avoid legal sanctions. In many cases, it's equally important to avoid the risk of damage to the company's reputation.

CK: Have you found that having an in-depth understanding of the law actually makes organizations more risk averse, or are they more averse when they don't know the boundaries?

SM: A number of companies have taken limited steps into social media because they think that they should be on it, but haven't fully engaged because of a lack of understanding of social media and a fear of the potential legal risks. But legal risks must be weighed up against the damage that may be caused to the business of not properly engaging. If you appreciate what the risks are, you can weigh up those risks against the business benefit, and also the damage that may be caused to your business of not engaging. Whereas, if you don't understand the nature or level of the risks, you could be almost paralyzed into inaction. In most cases, the legal risks are not insurmountable. Companies need to exercise the same common sense, judgment and risk-balancing that they use with other media.

Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Morrison & Foerster LLP. All rights reserved

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Susan McLean
 
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.

Disclaimer

Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.

Registration

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.

Cookies

A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.

Links

This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.

Mail-A-Friend

If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.

Security

This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.