OMC staff recently attended the PRIA breakfast seminar “Social media and the legal pitfalls for PR and communications today”, where Professor Mark Pearson and Associate Professor Jane Johnston from Bond University discussed some of the legal risks for organisations using social media channels.

One of the key take-aways from the seminar was that all organisations must monitor their social media sites and remove any content and/or comments that breach the Advertiser Code of Ethics (within a reasonable timeframe). This is because the law views an organisation’s social media site as a publishing outlet. An organisation is therefore considered the publisher of any statements and comments posted on its social media site. If the organisation does not take responsibility for comments made by external parties, it could be liable for any defamatory, discriminatory, copyright or other content posted.

The grey area is how long a legally inappropriate comment can be viewable on the site before an organisation can be prosecuted. A 24-hour window was the suggested timeframe; however, it is not a guarantee.

With social media an increasingly important communication channel, Professor Johnston said all those working in PR and corporate comms should have a basic knowledge of legal precedents in communication and contract law.

To assist with this, she has developed a ‘Legal PR Toolkit’, which includes the following tips:

• Identify key, easily accessible legal guides (e.g. Australian Copyright Council)

• Identify which fields of law you’re most likely to need to know about (e.g. defamation, confidentiality, copyright)

• Stay up-to-date with changing laws and Codes of Practices

•Develop a social media policy and educate staff about it

• Commit resources to monitor and moderate social media sites

• Moderate at least every 24 hours (ACCC recommended)

• Be mindful of community and cultural changes and expectations (laws can be slow to change)

• Unpack legal knowledge into crisis and risk management practices (and vice versa).

If you would like to hear more from staff who attended the seminar, please contact Stacey Outram, ext 52049 or Belinda Berry, ext 53439.

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