Reading Time: 5 minutes
Disclaimer: This post is not provided as specific legal advice, and dedicated advice should be sought concerning any specific queries or legal issues you may have. We recommend speaking with Paul Gordon from Wallmans Lawyers.
Our industry has been awash this past couple of weeks following the landmark ruling on Monday 24 June 2019, by New South Wales supreme court judge Stephen Rothman, who found that “commercial entities, including media companies, could be regarded as the publishers of comments made on Facebook, and as such had a responsibility to ensure defamatory remarks were not posted in the first place.” Source: The Guardian
This is a significant change from how we have approached this issue for a number of years.
Back in 2012 the Advertising Standards Board found that organisations were responsible for all comments posted on their page, but the new twist is businesses using Facebook Pages being responsible for posting them in the first place.
While you can disable the feature to allow anyone to post on a Facebook Page, it is not possible to disable comments on a post made by the Page itself.
So what should you do?
Don’t rush out and shut down your Facebook Page
While this may sound scary, it is very new, it’s a landmark ruling, and it isn’t going to apply to all Facebook Pages. Let’s take a step back and look through the options…
Keep in mind who this ruling is focussed on
The ruling stated: “commercial entities, including media companies”, this indicates a focus on larger businesses who tend to incite negative and potentially defamatory commentary.
Not every single Facebook Page is under scrutiny, though if you choose to use the platforms, you are expected to understand and use them appropriately. As mentioned, this is even an expectation of the Advertising Standards Bureau.
Set (and share) your community guidelines
Regardless of your organisation and size, I believe those making use of social media marketing platforms have a responsibility to set and enforce appropriate community guidelines.
This is a basic set of Community Guidelines we use on accounts we set up and manage as a minimum, and tailor as required. You are welcome to copy and use it:
Our Community Guidelines:
We (or your organisation name) welcome your posts, however expect users to not post content that applies to the following categories and reserve the right to delete any content that is;
- abusive, defamatory or obscene
- fraudulent, deceptive or misleading
- in violation of another’s intellectual property right
- in violation of any law or regulation
- otherwise offensive
You need to make sure your community are aware of the guidelines though.
Here are some ways you can share your guidelines:
- Include on the About section of your Facebook Page, for example at the end of the “Company Overview” or “Our Story”.
- Share your community guidelines as a post on the Page, and pin the post to the top of your timeline.
- Regularly refer to and remind your community of your community guidelines in new Page posts, e.g. every 3 months, or if they are updated.
- Create a community guidelines page on your website (this may be more detailed), and link to it from your social media accounts.
Use the profanity filter (and other features)
Facebook Pages offer a profanity filter in the Page’s Settings, which has some standard settings, as well as the ability to customise it.
This filter will automatically block any comments or posts from being made on your Page or posts that contain any inappropriate terms.
At a minimum we recommend setting it to “Strong”, and making use of the ability to add any custom terms that might be specific to your industry.
If you are concerned about people posting on your Page, you can disable this feature, though people will still be able to comment on posts you publish.
In general I recommend against removing the ability for people to post on your Page without a very good reason, as it does go against the “social” aspect of social media.
Have multiple account admins
I strongly recommend having at least two Facebook Page admins, who are aware of the community guidelines, and have two-factor authentication enabled on their logins to avoid issues with hacking and losing access.
Having multiple people who are aware of what the expectations are and how to enforce them will assist you with managing any negative situations, as well as providing support for each other, and regular account activity.
Enable notifications and use the Facebook Pages Manager app
Ensure your notifications are enabled (on Facebook, messages, email, text message etc) so that you are made aware as soon as a new comment or post is made (you may wish to disable notifications and alerts for more basic actions such as likes on your post however).
These notifications can be adjusted in the Settings section of your Facebook Page, and are generally found in settings on other accounts (Twitter, Instagram etc).
This will allow you to be aware as soon as any comments and posts are made, and deal with them appropriately.
We also recommend using the Facebook Pages Manager app on your smartphone or tablet for on-the-go management and push notifications.
Monitor your social media accounts regularly
In addition to using notifications, it is essential to monitor your Facebook Page and accounts regularly.
If you are choosing to use the platforms for professional interests, it is your responsibility to be aware of what is being done and said with them.
The expectations from a legal perspective are likely (but not guaranteed) to vary depending on the size of the Page and nature of the industry. For example a multi-national is more likely to be expected to have 24 hour monitoring and remove any inappropriate content within an hour (or sooner), whereas a micro or small business may be given more leniency.
Regardless I believe you should be checking your accounts at least once per day, or every other day if that isn’t possible for some reason.
Again, making use of notifications and having multiple admins can assist with this. With admins rostered to check the page for particular periods.
If you have inactive accounts with no or little chance of future use, you may also wish to disable them, to remove from public view and any potential issues.
Enforce your community guidelines
And it’s not just about monitoring your accounts, but actually enforcing your community guidelines.
If your guidelines state that you reserve the right to delete anything that is racist, sexist, defamatory, abusive, uses inappropriate language etc, there should not be any hesitation to delete the post if it is clearly one of those things.
You may want to take a screenshot prior and save it securely and appropriately in case there may be issues or references to it in the future.
You could also add any specifically inappropriate terms from the offending post in your custom profanity filter to prevent future posts of that nature.
If it doesn’t directly contravene your guidelines, you may wish to discuss it with your other admins, and even make use of the “hide” feature, which hides the post/comment from the public, yet it will still be visible to the original poster and their friends.
It is a serious issue, but I also encourage you to not panic. Simply be prepared, and take the appropriate precautions and actions to protect yourself, your organisation and your community.
There are a lot of wonderful things about social media and technology. Let’s not let those who abuse it win.
If you have any other suggestions for how to manage your accounts, please let us know in the comments.
ABC Radio National: Defamation and the Law (audio recording, featuring Paul Gordon from Wallmans Lawyers)
Our recent podcast interview with Paul Gordon from Wallmans Lawyers (pre-ruling), where he discusses the three areas of online law he is asked about most commonly, including defamation.