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

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

Susan McLean
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
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
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

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 or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq 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 of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions