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The Legalities of Social Media - IPA Seminar

16 May, 2012 - Source: Bray Leino

Bray Leino Yucca's Social Media Manager, Jemma Watkins attended the seminar on the “Legal Risks of Advertising on Social Media” at the IPA recently, presented by Dan Smith, Director and Head of Advertising Law at the international law firm Wragge & Co.

Dan’s session outlined that, thankfully, most of the regulations governing social media are in line with best practice and are therefore pretty likely to feature in any reputable agency or consultant’s code of conduct regardless of legality.

Social media requires common sense, authenticity and openness, and as such carelessness with personal data, allowing employees to impersonate customers, not declaring paid relationships with “influencers” or ambassadors, implying celebrity endorsement of a product without permission, or ignoring the guidelines of specific social media platforms could create a PR nightmare alongside a legal one.

Dan illustrated the seminar with plenty of lively examples including a biscuit manufacturer who posted several photos of celebrities snapped enjoying said snack on its Facebook page (falsely implying endorsement), and Katie Price’s deal with Snickers which saw her tweeting out of character about China’s GDP and quantitative easing (for which complaints about it being unclear this was paid-for activity were not upheld, mainly due to a subsequent tweet containing the hashtag #spon to clarify the posts were sponsored).

The fact Dan’s talk focused as much on best practice as it did legalities and regulations just goes to show how intertwined the two are.

One slide in Dan’s presentation that caused a bit of consternation in the audience was around infringement, defamation, and liability for user-generated content. Many brands choose to share links, photos and other content they don’t own across their social outposts – yet despite crediting the source (in most cases at least), these brands are entering a legal grey area.

As the lines between owned and earned social media continue to blur, so do the lines of responsibility. On a brand’s Facebook page, for example, a third party-owned site where members of the public can contribute freely yet a brand (or agency) can moderate, who is liable for a defamatory comment or piece of copyrighted material posted on the page by a fan? The answer may well be the person, people, company or agency managing the page.

Concerned brands and agencies may choose to opt out of the functionality allowing its publics to post on its social media outposts, but the ability to share content, make and post UGC and allow conversation is what makes social media inherently social. The wave of outrage across the internet caused by the proposed SOPA and PIPA legislation earlier this year only serves to reinforce how strongly people want to protect this aspect of our online lives.

The one thing on social media’s side is the difficulty in policing this kind of activity and the time and effort required to ascertain whether or not it is within regulations. Those brands or agencies that find themselves under questioning may well have been called out by competitors, a common practice in other forms of advertising within certain industries.

Ultimately - while it’s important to keep up with the latest legislation - agencies operating with integrity and transparency on behalf of their clients should be able to keep themselves out of hot water.

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