Did you know you can be liable for misleading or false comments posted by fans / followers / customers on your business’s facebook page?

Posted on by Mark Fernandez

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube give all businesses a new, direct way to interact with customers, to attract new customers, and to promote their products and services.  However, businesses using social media channels have a responsibility to ensure content in these channels is accurate, irrespective of who put it there.

Consumer protection laws prohibit businesses from making false, misleading or deceptive claims about their products or services and these laws also apply to social media.  Just like any claim a business makes as part of its marketing and promotional activities – including print, radio, television and websites– the claims made on social media channels like Facebook, Twitter or YouTube must not be false, misleading or deceptive.

A business can be held responsible for any public comments made by customers, fans, followers or bloggers on its social media pages which are false or are likely to mislead or deceive consumers. This was confirmed by the Federal Court in 2011 during the ACCC’s court action against an allergy treatment company. Clients of the company posted testimonials on the company’s Facebook “wall” and the court concluded that the company became the publisher and accepted responsibility for the posts and testimonials on its social media pages when it knew about them and decided not to remove them.

Guidance for business

Don’t make statements on your Facebook or other social media pages that you wouldn’t make in any other type of advertising. If you’re unsure about what you can or cannot say, seek legal advice.

Monitor your social media pages and remove any posts that may be false, misleading or deceptive as soon as you become aware of them. This is what the ACCC would expect you to do with any other type of advertisement.

You can respond to comments or testimonials but it is possible that your response may not be sufficient to override the false impression made by the original comments. It may be safer to simply remove the comments.

Establish clear ‘house rules’ that apply to the actions of your fans, friends and followers when using your social media pages. These rules should be featured prominently on your social media pages. You should then block users who breach your rules.

It is important to keep in mind that social media operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and many consumers use social media outside normal business hours and on weekends.

The ACCC can require businesses to substantiate any claims on their social media pages, and can take court action where it identifies a breach of the law (or issue an infringement notice in certain circumstances).

For further guidance when using social media please see: Using social media to promote your business on www.accc.gov.au

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