Australia’s Advertising Standards Board has issued a judgment in which it said comments made by fans of a vodka brand’s Facebook page were ads and must therefore comply with industry self-regulatory codes and therefore consumer protection laws. Advertisement
The ruling will force companies to vet comments posted by the public to ensure they are not sexist, racist or factually inaccurate.
Non compliant companies could be fined or publicly shamed for the comments that appear on their Facebook brand pages.
A media lawyer is warning that the Advertising Standards Board’s ruling on Smirnoff’s Facebook page will put the onus back on companies to be more vigilant about the nature of the comments people are posting to their company pages. John Swinson, a partner at law firm King & Wood Mallesons, said the board’s rulingturned people’s opinions into statements of facts .
Swinson said that if, for example, a member of the public posted a comment on Smirnoff’s site that claimed it was the purest Russian vodka and would lead to success with the opposite sex and Smirnoff failed to remove it, the company could be liable on a number of counts.
Although the Advertising Standards Board dismissed the original complaint about Smirnoff, which centred on sexism, under-age drinking and obscene language, it ruled industry codes applied not only to what a company was posting on its Facebook page but to the user-generated comments that followed.
The board’s determination also cited a recent case of a health company, Allergy Pathway, which was fined for allowing misleading and deceptive testimonials to remain on its Facebook and Twitter pages.