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Businesses liable for all false Facebook comments

Brands: Be cautious. Every post on your Facebook page counts as advertising. At least according the Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) in Australia.

Posts on Smirnoff‘s Facebook page caused the board to rule that any and all posts on its page–made by a  company representative or by a consumer–are considered advertising and must be accurate.

This means that a company is accountable for any false information posted on the site, even if wrongly stated by a fan. 

The Telegraph presents a hypothetical in which a fan of Smirnoff’s Facebook page might extol the brand’s vodka as the purest Russian vodka. However Smirnoff is Australian, which technically would make the “ad”—to use the ASB’s rather liberal definition—misleading and false.

Right now, the ruling is isolated in Australia, though some observers, like Chris Watson, a partner at the law firm CMS Cameron McKenna, believes the standard might extend to other countries. 

If so, this will mean all sorts of trouble for Facebook and the brands with a Facebook presence.

Companies must now be extra cautious when scanning comments left on social media pages.  While it’s common knowledge that businesses will delete offensive and inappropriate comments made by individuals, they must now also make sure that all the information is completely accurate. 

By these standards, writing “This stuff is so good, you won’t ever get a hangover!” would effectively count as advertising for the company and if not removed, could provide anyone with the right to sue. 

If I were a competitor, it would naturally make sense for me to have someone go to another company’s page and write things like “This is so great and it’s cheaper than this other brand!” Because this is false, I could return to my company and sue my competitor for false advertising, which really highlights how ridiculous this ruling actually is.  

In addition, this could completely skewer the way Facebook controls advertising on its site. If brands reduce their presence on Facebook as a result of this ruling, it might make sense for brands to also cut display ads to a certain degree. Seeing as Facebook ads contribute to about 84% of its total revenue, this could only mean bad news for the site.

Last, but definitely not least, social media in general has always been a forum for the ability to discuss and share opinions. Amid the ever-evolving social media culture, taking these rights away could certainly mean problems for the way Facebook and social media operate today.

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