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Troublesome tweets – what to avoid when using social media

Posted by Jessica Thompson on 12th April 2017

If your business uses social media, you need to be aware of publishing law and advertising regulations to ensure that incidents, like the ones discussed in this Article, are avoided.

You will all have heard of Katie Hopkins, be it as a TV personality or as a columnist. But did you hear about the  High Court libel verdict where she was found to have published defamatory tweets, or what’s been coined ‘twibel’ ?

Written newspaper articles and books published are governed by certain rules and regulations which ensure that the content they are publishing is suitable for the public. Businesses and individuals who write similar content online, be it a blog or tweet however, don’t have a good understanding of publishing law and how to avoid breaching it.  Similarly, many businesses are not considering how their social media posts may breach advertising regulations, as the boundaries between paid-for advertising and other forms of communication become more blurred. 

NIKE (UK) for example, were the first UK based company to have their Twitter ad campaign banned, due to a complaint being made that a tweet sent from the account of England football captain Wayne Rooney, as part of his sponsorship by Nike (UK), was not clearly marked as a marketing communication. 

It read:

“My resolution – to start the year as a champion, and finish it as a champion … #makeitcount”

Although in that case the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) found that Nike (UK) had not breached the code of conduct, saying the tweet was obviously identifiable as a Nike marketing communication, it may not always be clear to businesses where the line is drawn. There have been further examples of investigations in to other celebrity tweets since then, such as Rio Ferdinand and Katie Price.

In making the judgement in the Katie Hopkins case, the court had to determine whether the tweets met the requirement for ‘serious harm’ that is defined in Section 1 of the Defamation Act 2013.

Given the seriousness of the allegations in the tweets and the extent of the publication (the Court estimated there would be at least 100,000 readers because of the ‘impressions’ shown on the screen to the tweet), the tweets she posted were found to be defamatory. Katie had  implied the poverty campaigner and writer Jack Monroe had defaced a war memorial, in a case of mistaken identity.  As a result, Katie Hopkins was ordered to pay damages of £24,000 as well as Monroe’s legal costs. 

It is of the upmost importance that businesses regulate their social media posts and monitor what content they are putting out in to the public domain. It is a fast-moving arena and often posts, tweets, retweets and comments are the subject of instant decision-making.  When careful reflection isn’t part of the equation, it can lead to problems. 

To avoid ‘crossing the line’ in your posts, be it on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, it is advisable to keep social media policies under constant review and make sure people who are active on social media and who work in your business understand the boundaries that they are operating within, through both the company’s marketing strategy and their terms of employment.

Our employment team specialise in providing Handbooks and Social Media policies regulating your employees use of social media within your business, are you fully protected? 


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