Socially Awkward

August 26, 2013 Published by

Poor Qantas. In recent times the airline has suffered many a social media mishap. Back in 2011 their Twitter hashtag #qantasluxury was hijacked by unhappy customers who delivered an unprecedented number of cuttingly sarcastic and highly critical responses. In 2012 the airline battled to remove a snarky parody PR account from Twitter. The most recent incident occurred in July this year when a hardcore pornographic image was displayed for about 7 hours on the Qantas Facebook page, much to the shock of an 8 year old boy and his father.

Image: Jason A. Howie

Of course Qantas is only one of many brands to suffer at the hands of social media. Australia’s Next Top Model recently had their promotional hashtag #antmselfie hijacked by feminist group Collective Shout, who claimed the competition was superficial and encouraged sexualised behaviour. The group’s actions drew attention to photo entries from girls as young as 9.

So what can you do to minimise the legal risks and avoid being featured in one of the many online articles gleefully titled ‘Companies that have made Huge Social Media Mistakes’?

Australian Law and Guidelines

In Australia, social media moderation is a hotly contested subject. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and a number of industry bodies have released somewhat conflicting guidelines, as summarised below.


The ACCC has made it clear that it considers content on social media sites to be advertising and/or marketing communications. Importantly, this means that competition law applies to such content.

Accordingly, brands have a responsibility to ensure content on their social media pages is accurate, irrespective of who put the content there. Brands will be held responsible for user posts or public comments made on social media pages which are false, misleading or deceptive if the brand knows about them and decides not to remove them.

In regards to moderation generally, the ACCC says that the amount of time a company needs to spend monitoring its social media pages depends on the size of the company and the number of fans or followers they have.

Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA)

The AANA has stated that its self-regulatory codes apply equally to digital and traditional media.

For brands that are interacting and participating actively on a digital platform, the AANA Best Practice Guideline ‘Responsible Marketing Communications in the Digital Space’ recommends brands moderate at least once every business day. Brands should also moderate immediately after posting or engaging online and for at least 2 hours following a post.

Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB)

Unlike the ACCC and the AANA, the IAB believes that user comments directed towards a social media platform do not constitute advertising. However, user comments can be converted into promotional statements through an organisation’s direct endorsement or expression of agreement. Further, the risk of an organisation becoming responsible for a user comment on its social media platforms increases once it has been made aware of the comment and it has had the opportunity to review it and take appropriate action.

In its new publication ‘Best Practice for User Comment Moderation’, the IAB suggests that companies moderate comments to the extent their resources allow. At a minimum, this should involve reviewing and moderating recently published comments at the same time as posting a new comment. The IAB notes that brands should increase their moderation if they are engaging in online interaction that is provocative, and designed to illicit controversial responses.

So what should you do?

When it comes to social media moderation, a common sense approach is best. Brands should moderate their pages regularly, taking into account the extent and activeness of their social media presence. For large international companies such as Qantas, this may mean consistent monitoring 24 hours, 7 days a week. For smaller brands, this may be once a business day. All brands should remove posts that are, or are likely to be, false, misleading or deceptive, defamatory, offensive or which breach intellectual property laws as soon as the brand becomes aware of them.

Most importantly, all companies should have in place:

  • A social media policy, which sets out employer expectations around professional and private use of social media;
  • Community manager guidelines, which set out clear company policies and practices around moderation and the removal of offensive or illegal content;
  • House rules/community guidelines, which set out the standards expected from community users; and
  • A crisis management plan, in case something does go amiss.

Of course, in an ideal world you will never have to use that crisis management plan!

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