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The Law Behind What You Post on Social Media

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I love myself a good, old viral cat video just as much as the next person (sloths aren’t too bad either). I also probably post more status updates than everyone put together at WME (apologies to my colleagues). I’m a social fanatic and a social fanatic is often the person that ends up toeing the line in terms of what’s okay to put out there to the world, and what is probably on the dangerous side. Luckily for me, I’m prone to posting motivational quotes and bunny pictures, more than anything else—but come my responsibilities at work, I’ve come to learn the many ins and outs of what is legally accepted for a brand to distribute in an online space.

Working at a global business—such as WME—I have to exercise extreme caution in terms of what’s said, what’s shared, what’s portrayed and what’s perceived in every word I choose to relay to our audience. It’s a part of getting social with a brand, and there’s actually a whole lot more to it than what first meets the eye.

If you’re genuinely attracting negative feedback because you haven’t thought your strategy out well enough, you’ve already set up your campaign for failure (just ask those behind the recent #YourTaxi mess…seriously, Google it). Ask your audience questions that promote and encourage others to contribute positive messages about the brand, and if you do receive the odd negative comment, be sure you know who it deal with it in a proactive and timely manner.

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Some of the biggest brands deal with their public response extremely well—the likes of NAB and Telstra are literally guns who know how to give an audience a professional, authentic and prompt response. In either case, you must be aware that you’re going to be exposing your brand to a lot of public interaction, some of it not always good. It’s up to you how you choose to tackle it, and when do decide to charge full-steam ahead, consider these potential legal factors…

Your brand is responsible for all content posted on its social pages

For the sake of this blog post, let’s hypothetically assume you have a bar that has chosen to put up a Facebook status update, asking the public who their favourite bartender is. Immediately, a user going by the name “Angry Tom” comments on it, relaying their dislike for Bob, because he’s “not pretty to look at and has bad body odour”. This is offensive to Bob and pretty hard to prove wrong or right (appropriately, anyway). Despite the fact that your business did not post this comment in the first place, it has the legal responsibility to remove this comment within the appropriate timeframe. Why? In the eyes of ACCC consumer guidelines and the law, this comment can be seen as “offensive” (for good reason) and “unlawful”, with the potential to cause harm to Bob.

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In another case, let’s say Angry Tom posts on your bar’s Facebook Wall, claiming that he got food poisoning from the peanuts sitting in the bowl on the bar (probably a wrong life choice made by Angry Tom, anyway). Your bar chooses to respond by deleting the comment outright—there’s no harm in that, right?

Wrong. In actual fact, any content that is not unlawful or offensive is not to be removed from brands’ public profiles. Why? Because by doing so, you’re actually choosing to mislead consumers—at least by the guidelines of ACCC. Instead, the brand should be choosing to respond to Angry Tom in a professional and appropriate manner that addresses his concerns.

How long does a brand have to respond?

Typically, if you are a company of around 250 employees, you’ve got about 24 hours to remove problematic content. If you’re a company of under 10 employees, you’re given more time to deal with it—you should aim to remove or respond to content within 7 days.

So, how can you avoid all this trouble in the first place?

  • Respond to comments that may be negative, rather than deleting.
  • Delete comments and content that is obscene, unlawful or holds the potential to cause another person mental/physical harm.
  • Ensure your social media strategy is able to promote and encourage positive feedback, rather than negative—ask questions that are not likely to gain a problematic public reaction.
  • Do not make misleading claims about others or your own products/services (risk of defamation).
  • Remember that your competitors are watching you’re posting. Don’t give them a reason to dob you in.
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By Cassie McBlane


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