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Spending big on facebook for business Australia?

Here’s why you shouldn’t skimp on community management.

You have a beautiful deck on your content strategy, hired the best photographer in the biz and your copywriter is JK Rowling in the making.

“Social media nailed” you think to yourself as you log off. But there is something you may have overlooked that could cause you to be nailed by the law. Community management.

Community management involves engaging with your online communities through the good, bad and the ugly. It’s answering questions, or showing support, or joining in conversations. It’s also ensuring that defamatory comments are dealt with swiftly. Failure to do so could result in you being sued for defamation. Even the most well intentioned, innocent post by a business can become a platform for abuse and the derision of others so staying on top of what happens on any of your platforms is literally business critical.

In the eyes of the law, you’re a publisher

If your business runs social media accounts that allow people to comment – and they do so in a defamatory way –the law says: you my friend are a publisher of those comments. Romeo El Daghl, Solicitor – Director of Lawpoint and expert on Australian defamation matters says:

“It doesn’t matter that you didn’t write them. It doesn’t even matter if you knew the comments were there. According to the law, you are considered the publisher and therefore, can be sued for defamation”.

How did that happen?

You can thank Fairfax Media Publications Pty Ltd v Voller; Nationwide News Pty Limited v Voller; Australian News Channel Pty Ltd v Voller [2021] HCA 27. AKA Voller.  

In this case, the majority decided that any business or person who permits a post to be open to third parties to comment on may be liable as a publisher if a third party does in fact use that original post to make defamatory statements.

It does not matter whether the defamatory comments relate to the post or not. If the post/platform permits the making of the comment, then that business will likely be deemed to be a publisher of the comment in addition to the person making it.  

Here’s how you could be liable  

If your business was told that a comment on your page is defamatory, and your business failed to take reasonable steps to remove or deal with that comment, your business will be liable as a publisher. 

But you could be in trouble even if you didn’t know the comments where there.

“ A business can be found to be a publisher of material even if it does not know that the material was placed on its post,” Mr. El Daghl explained.

In the eyes of the law – size doesn’t matter. Any business or person who facilitates the making of a defamatory comment by a third party may be liable as a publisher for defamatory comments made by that third party. 

The advice from Lawpoint is that defamation is a notoriously expensive area of the law. Your safest bet is to reduce the risk of defamatory content on your social profiles. 

Recommendations for this include:

  1. Have a clear social media management policy that clearly outlines how often your platforms must be checked for comments, what defines defamatory comments and how to deal with them. HOT TIP – delete them.
  2. Act immediately if you receive a complaint about comments made on your post and remove anything that is offensive or defamatory of another person. 
  3. If you have an agency that takes care of community management, make sure they’re clear on your policy and what your expectations are. Outline the processes, roles and responsibilities of moderating content and put these in your service agreements. 
  4. Monitor your social media and online posts as often as possible for any “trolling” third party comments and remove those comments as soon as you become aware of them. The quicker you find and remove them, the more you mitigate the risk of defamatory material. 
  5. If you don’t have the time or resources to monitor your social media profiles systematically, use pre-emptive measures such as disabling comments on posts. 

Don’t put all your time and money into the shiny stuff. Clear policies, procedures and Q&As are essential for building a positive community – and staying on the right side of the law.

For more information on online defamation speak to a commercial lawyer at Lawpoint.

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