Legal issues raised by social media

Social media is an established part of our everyday lives, as well as a key platform for many businesses. The rise of social media creates a number of legal issues that business owners must be aware of when utilising platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. Businesses should consider a proactive approach in implementing both preventative and reactive ways of mitigating potential risks.

Confidentiality:
Legal issues arise when confidential information is disclosed on social media. In accordance with privacy regulations, individuals must be notified when personal information is being collected and the disclosure of such information is prohibited unless it is for certain purposes. A current privacy policy, that is accessible to consumers, should clearly outline the business’ practices when it comes to the collection, use and disclosure of personal information on social media. To mitigate the risk of an unwanted privacy breach, you should constantly revisit the strength of your online security by updating software, creating strong passwords, and backing up data.

Misleading conduct:
Under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL), an individual acting in trade or commerce must not make any false or misleading statements about the goods or services that they are providing. The ACL applies this to advertising on social media platforms. Claims made on social media, as well as any comparisons with competitors, must be substantiated. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) provides guidance to businesses to ensure their social media pages are not breaching the misleading conduct provisions of the ACL. Steps that businesses can take to minimise risk include constantly monitoring their social media pages and responding to or removing any misleading content.

Defamation:
Defamation occurs where content is published or broadcast that injures a third party’s reputation. Defamation on social media platforms can have far-reaching implications, as a slanderous comment can be distributed online instantaneously to numerous jurisdictions, causing severe damage to a person’s reputation. While there are defences on grounds such as the content being true or it is an honest opinion, a business may still potentially defame an individual or other organisation. Social media creates a further risk for defamation, as it could even occur by ‘liking’ or ‘sharing’ a defamatory comment made by someone else.

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