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Social retailers put on notice

Retailers with Facebook and other social media pages can be held liable for their users’ comments following a landmark case that fell before the Australian advertising body.

Businesses, such as retailers with brand-specific pages, have been put on notice by the Advertising Standards Board (ASB) to monitor comments left on the social networking site.

The ASB decision was prompted by a complaint about comments left on the Facebook pages of vodka brand, Smirnoff, and beer brand, VB.

The Smirnoff case was eventually given the all-clear by the ASB, however, in the VB ruling it was found by the ASB that it involved offensive sexist, homophobic, and obscene content.

The ASB how now confirmed that both cases have implications for businesses that may have once thought onus fell on the comment maker.

Comments that display sexism, racism, obscenity, and other anti-social behaviours could be specifically targeted by the decision.

The board’s ruling says the industry ethics code applies to content generated by advertisers as well as material or comments posted by users, friends, or “fans”.

Many local retailers, such as Brumby’s through to small boutique chains like Green With Envy, have dynamic Facebook pages frequented by user comments and feedback.

In the recent case of Brumby’s – who faced a user comment onslaught last month due to a carbon tax scandal – the chain may be liable for derogatory comments made against it.

No specific guidelines of code of pratice have yet been announced.

It is not clear if a business’ social media liability would extend to the  moderation of user comments, or of all comments made by users at any time on its social networking pages.

Even if pre-moderation is chosen as a suitable guideline, it will involve social media brand managers to now spend much extra time fielding comments before they are published.

Fosters, the owner of VB, has called into question the ASB’s commercial nous. It said its stance that brands are responsible for all user comments was unrealistic for social media managers.

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