Twitter has become deeply integrated into my life. As danah boyd recently discussed, it seems every aspect of my life now blurs.

As the influence of social media increases in Australia so will the need for company’s senior executives and social media managers to meaningfully consider both the benefits and the risks of engaging online. I’ve been impressed with the use of social media by Australia’s corporate watchdog, the ACCC to increase awareness of the legal issues relevant to social media. Last month, they published a useful post that outlined the issues businesses need to be aware of when using social media for marketing.

 

@acccgovau on Twitter

There are laws your business should consider when placing advertisement in a newspaper also apply to social media marketing. The ACCC provides practical examples of how consumer protection laws that prohibit businesses from making false, deceptive claims also apply to social media:

1. XYZ Pty Ltd tweets:

“We are the  first Australian company to offer a 100% environmentally friendly car wash service”

…when they have not done any research to support this. It turns out that a competitor’s has offered the same service for many years. This tweet is likely to be false, misleading or deceptive.

2. ABC Pty Ltd pays a celebrity to tweets:

“I loved staying at ABC’s resorts – the food  is AMAZING!”

…when the celebrity has never actually been to this resort. This tweet is likely to be false, misleading or deceptive.

This practical reminder from the ACCC that the same laws that regulate other media apply to social media was starkly demonstrated in a case decided by the Federal Court last year. The Court found that Leah Madden’s claims on her Facebook page that Seafolly had copied her designs were misleading and deceptive.

Seafolly vs. Leah Madden

Ms Madden was ordered to pay $25,000 plus Seafolly’s legal costs (which would have been considerable).

The good news is that companies can take proactive steps to minimise such risks:

Remember that consumer protection laws apply to social media. Monitor your social media pages. Depending on the circumstances, you may need to remove false and misleading comments or testimonials. If your response is sufficient to override the false impression made by the original comments, you could directly respond to such comments instead of removing them.

Think carefully about who is monitoring, moderating and responding to comments as they should know your company well and be trained in sensitively and promptly dealing with difficult conversations.

Establish clear community guidelines that apply to your friends and ‘fans’ using your social media pages. These guidelines should be featured prominently on your social media pages.

Leanne (@MsLods) is a senior lawyer who specialises in a range of intellectual property, technology and social media issues. Notably, Leanne represented iiNet in its landmark copyright litigation from trial in 2009 through to the High Court win in 2012. This case was also the first trial in Australia to be live-tweeted. She produces a popular weekly round-up of news and views on law and technology issues on her blog

Have a legal question for Leanne? Leave a comment below! 

 

NOTE: This information is provided as a general overview of the legal issues discussed in this post. It is not legal advice. You should seek independent legal advice before relying on the information provided. Please contact us if you have any specific questions that we may able to help with.