A new ruling formed by the Australian Advertising Standards Board is set to cause havoc upon social media censorship for companies. They investigated a study (not a consumer complaint..) regarding questionable content on the Australian Facebook pages of Smirnoff and VB, the board ruled that brands are now accountable for the opinions made by fans on the Facebook page. Comments by fans are thus deemed as advertisements that the brands have control over. Thus the new ruling will see companies potentially fined or publicly shamed for comments from fans that appear on brand facebook pages, regardless of whether the company agrees with what is being said.
Seems ridiculous right? Why should companies be held responsible for the words of their followers?
Well, The Australian Advertising Standards Board has provided very little reasoning as to brands should be accountable for the comments of their followers. It would be understandable for brand Facebook pages to be potentially punished for actions that do not fit within the laws of communication on other media platforms.
The effects these new rulings will have on the rapidly growing social media world will be crippling for businesses. Having to constantly monitor and censor comments made by followers will greatly effect transparency of many brands online. It will also limit relationship building and communication between brands and consumers.
Are there any ways brands can get around this without overly censoring consumer content on their Facebook pages?
Excerpts from the report
The AASB’s view:
The Board considered that the Facebook site of an advertiser is a marketing communication tool over which the advertiser has a reasonable degree of control and that the site could be considered to draw the attention of a segment of the public to a product in a manner calculated to promote or oppose directly or indirectly that product. The Board determined that the provisions of the Code apply to an advertiser‟s Facebook page. As a Facebook page can be used to engage with customers, the Board further considered that the Code applies to the content generated by the page creator as well as material or comments posted by users or friends. The Board noted that on this Facebook page, the user comments identified in the complaint were posted in reply to questions posed by the advertiser.
The Board noted that social media is an advertising platform that requires monitoring to ensure that offensive material is removed within a reasonable timeframe and that content within a Facebook page should, like all other advertisement and marketing communication, be assessed with the Code in mind.
Before we address the issues raised in the complaint we’d like to share our approach to the social media medium and how our brands participate. The nature of Facebook is that it is dynamic, informal, easy to use and a tool that allows people to subscribe to communities that are of interest to them. As a medium its content is diverse in terms of the language and views expressed – it is like any conversation that people would engage in. It is this combination that makes it a compelling space for its users but equally the companies who participate. It‟s worth noting that the opportunity to engage continuously and directly with a group of highly engaged „fans‟ is very appealing to brands. That said, those unique benefits can at times also make it a challenging space.
The User Comments are not “Advertising or Marketing Communications”. The Code applies to “Advertising or Marketing Communications”, defined as follows:
Advertising or Marketing Communications means any material which is published or broadcast using any Medium or any activity which is undertaken by, or on behalf of an advertiser or marketer, and
- over which the advertiser or marketer has a reasonable degree of control, and
- that draws the attention of the public in a manner calculated to promote or oppose directly or indirectly a product, service, person, organisation or line of conduct, but does not include Excluded Advertising or Marketing Communications.
Drilling down into the definition of “Advertising or Marketing Communications”, it was our understanding that User Comments do not fall within that definition as they are not material “over which [CUB] has a reasonable degree of control”. While CUB has the ability to monitor and remove User Comments from the VB Page (our commitment to this process is detailed later in this letter), pre-moderation by CUB of User Comments on the VB Page is not commercially feasible therefore CUB has no practical control over the content of the User Comments.
We submit that the Code must be read with recognition of the commercial realities that apply in the marketplace. It would be unduly onerous on alcohol beverage producers and indeed any company participating in this medium to interpret the Code as including User Comments on Facebook pages as falling within the scope of “Advertising or Marketing Communications”, since CUB does not have a reasonable degree of control over them. The only way for a producer to be certain that no inappropriate User Comments appear on a Facebook page for its product would be either not to have that Facebook page at all (which is commercially unsustainable given the importance of social media in marketing in 2012 and its likely increased importance in future), or to review every User Comment before allowing it to appear on the page. A requirement for pre-moderation of every User Comment would be contrary to the spirit of social media and would cause users to become disengaged from the page, i.e. they are unlikely to tolerate the inevitable delay between their submitting a post and it appearing on the site, which runs contrary to the sense of immediacy and spontaneity that users expect from a Facebook page. Further it would require an unreasonably high level of resourcing by the producer – effectively, moderation staff would need to be engaged 24/7, every day of the year, to review every User Comment as quickly as possible after it is submitted. This is commercially unrealistic.
Further to our belief that User Comments fall outside the definition of “Advertising or Marketing Communications” as they are not “calculated to promote or oppose directly or indirectly a product, service, person, organisation or line of conduct”. It is not clear whether “calculated” means “intended” or “likely”, but in either case many of the User Comments on the VB Page do not mention any product or service etc. so they cannot be “calculated” to promote or oppose any product or service etc. While many User Comments do mention VB beer very few, if any, could be understood as advertising or marketing VB, even on the broadest possible definition of “advertising or marketing” – at most they could be understood as a statement of personal preference by an individual, to the effect that they enjoy (or in some cases dislike) VB. It is not unusual for those who „like us‟ to actually post User Comments that express a preference for competitor product. The User Comments on the VB Facebook fan page fall outside the scope of the Code as they are not part of (and would not be understood by the relevant audience as part of) any advertisement or marketing communication for an alcohol beverage. In context, the User Comments will be understood as spontaneous comments that do not necessarily have anything to do with VB beer or if they do, may or may not be favourable to VB.