Social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter are an established part of our day-to-day. They are also increasingly creeping into our professional lives and have manifested themselves as a vehicle for commercial transactions. Below, we set out the legal issues which social media raises as well as best practice guidelines.

Disclosure of Confidential Information

It’s not uncommon for people to mistakenly disclose confidential information on social media. You should then continuously revisit the strength of your security through measures such as updating software, virus protection, firewalls, passwords and backing up your data. Ensure that you check your privacy settings regularly as the site can sometimes alter your privacy preferences.

Misleading and Deceptive Statements

Under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL), a person acting in trade or commerce must not make any false or misleading statements in connection with the goods or services they are supplying or promoting. The ACL applies to advertising on social media platforms such as Instagram. If you are making statements about your business or have paid an “influencer” to endorse your product, you must guard against misleading your customers and disclose this information. Importantly, you may also contravene the ACL if you do not respond to any misleading statements a third party posts online about your business.

The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) provides guidance on the steps a business should take to ensure their social media pages are not contravening the misleading and deceptive provisions of the ACL. These include minimising risk by monitoring your social media pages and responding to any misleading statements or removing the misleading statement.

Defamation

Defamation occurs when someone is subject to a defamatory comment or publication that causes harm to that person’s reputation. Here, legal issues can arise because a slanderous comment is distributed online within seconds to numerous jurisdictions. 

Defamation can create legal issues on social media platforms, and these can have far-reaching implications.  This is because the publication of a slanderous comment online is distributed within seconds to numerous jurisdictions. This can cause severe damage to a person’s reputation.

In 2014 an Australian school teacher was awarded $105,000 in damages for defamatory comments that were made about her.  The harmful comments were made by her student on the student’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Employment Law

Social media platforms provide a medium for online bullying and harassment.  This can lead to claims of discrimination or constructive unfair dismissal as employers are vicariously liable for the acts of one employee against another in the course of their employment. It is, therefore, important that a business has appropriate social media policies in place for its employees.

The Benefits of Social Media for Businesses

Despite some of the pitfalls of social media, it is important to remind yourself of the advantages that social media platforms provide. Some advantages include:

  1. The opportunity to easily engage customers on a platform that can be accessed 24 hours a day and seven days a week;  
  2. The opportunity to promote your business’ products and services. The reach of a social media platform also provides an instant global audience; and
  3. When used effectively, a business can see an increase in revenue and increased customer engagement as well as invaluable goodwill.

Key Takeaways

It is clear that social media platforms can potentially raise a host of legal challenges for businesses. However, you can tkae steps to minimise these risks by applying appropriate procedures and being vigilant about matters such as privacy and misleading or deceptive conduct. If you require assistance with creating a social media policy for your business, or have any questions about your social media use, get in touch with our lawyers on 1300 544 755.

Esther Mistarz

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