The Hazards of Social Media

Recent determinations by the Advertising Standards Board (ASB) have changed the ground rules for businesses operating Facebook fan pages.

The ASB found that the Facebook fan page of an advertiser was a marketing communication tool used to promote products “over which the advertiser has a reasonable degree of control” and that advertisers who operated commercial Facebook fan pages were responsible for the comments of fans or other users.

In a case against Fosters Australia, Asia & Pacific (Carlton and United Breweries (CUB)) it was claimed that the Victoria Bitter Fan Page contained:

Sexism racism and other forms of discrimination or vilification
Irresponsible drinking and excessive consumption
Obscene language depiction of under-25 year olds consuming alcohol
Material that connects alcohol consumption with sexual or social prowess

In the response from CUB the company maintained:

“Drilling down into the definition of “Advertising or Marketing Communications”, it was our understanding that User Comments do not fall within that definition as they are not material “over which [CUB] has a reasonable degree of control”.”

However the ASB held that the content on the Facebook pages had breached several sections of the code and noted

“that social media is an advertising platform that requires monitoring to ensure that offensive material is removed within a reasonable timeframe and that content within a Facebook page should, like all other advertisement and marketing communication, be assessed with the Code in mind”.

Carlton and United Breweries (CUB) have removed the content from the website and have now introduced a much more rigorous monitoring regime to ensure that the content on social media pages conforms to Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code (ABAC).

In another case highlighting the perils of comments posted on fan pages the Federal Court held that, in the case of ACCC v Allergy Pathway Pty Ltd, the defendant company was found in contempt of court as it was in control of and responsible for comments posted by users on its fan page.

It is apparent that any business operating a social media site must now implement a guidelines policy that conforms to advertising codes and ensure a strict monitoring process  for moderating comments published by users on social networks.