ASB rules brands are responsible for all fan comments on Facebook

Ad Standards

The industry watchdog Advertising Standards Bureau has ruled that it considers Facebook pages managed by brands to be a form of advertising, based on a ruling on a complaint against alcohol brand Diageo.

The decision means the ASB believes brands are responsible for the content written by fans on branded Facebook pages.

In a move echoing an ACCC ruling in 2011, which found Allergy Pathways to be responsible for deceptive posts on its Page, the ASB found that comments left by fans could be considered to promote the brand.

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 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 advertisers as well as material or comments posted by users or friends.

The ruling was made by the ASB in response to a complaint about the Smirnoff Facebook page, managed by Profero and Diageo.

In the ruling, the board responded to complaints made about images and comments made by the brand and fans which the complaint claimed were obscene, promoted excessive drinking and “connected alcohol consumption with sexual or social prowess”

The Board rejected Diageo’s response, which claimed that all Facebook could not be considered advertising because Facebook is an engagement platform, and Facebook is a no-cost medium offering free content.

Diageo commented:

“Facebook, just like television and radio, is a platform for engaging with people in a myriad of different ways (e.g. advertising, relationship building, and entertainment).”

The complaint itself, which referred to photos of people posing with drinks, was rejected by the ASB, but the results will have wide-ranging repercussions for brand managers and Facebook administrators.

According to the Australian, a forthcoming ruling by the ASB against Carlton and United Breweries beer brand VB will find the brand responsible for alleged racist, sexist and anti-gay comment on its Facebook page. The management of the VB page will be taken over by Clemenger BBDO Melbourne shortly, after Clems won the account from Droga5. The Facebook page was previously managed by the client.

A spokesperson for Droga 5 told Mumbrella the agency would not be commenting on the issue.

The recently updated Facebook Timeline for brands gives page administrators the ability to pre-moderate comments, to restrict access to underage Facebook users, to restrict the kinds of posts users can share (photos or videos by users can be blocked) as well as setting “Page Visibility” so that administrators are required to approve all posts that appear on a brand’s timeline.

However, pre-moderation would represent a significant increase in the workload for Page administrators and could have a serious impact on a brand’s ability to have the sort of real-time conversations with fans that have come to typify social media engagement.

Alina Bain, director of codes, policy and regulatory affairs at the Australian Association of National Advertisers told Mumbrella: “Advertisers accept they have a duty of care to avoid comments being posted on their websites that are misleading or breach the restrictions in the self regulatory system.  The question is how that can be best achieved without destroying the integrity and spirit of social media.  That’s a challenge that faces anyone whether that be a media company, an advertiser, a blogger, whoever.  We’ll review the ASB decision and discuss with our members how we can help them meet their self-regulatory and legal responsibilities in this environment.”


  1. Fanta
    6 Aug 12
    11:51 am

  2. It sounds like the North Korean version of Social Media. Clients will become so damn conservative and censorship so prolific that the whole nature of social will be destroyed. On the other hand, perhaps the world is a better place with one less marketing/advertising stream. Did I really just say that ?

  3. Simon
    6 Aug 12
    11:52 am

  4. Quite possibly the stupidest decision ever made?


  5. ex Facebook fan
    6 Aug 12
    11:57 am

  6. Have fun living your life (both work and personal) on Facebook.

  7. Andrew
    6 Aug 12
    12:04 pm

  8. So, by this precedent do brands now have the ability to delete whatever comments/posts they like without having to worry about people bitching and moaning that they’re censoring negative comments?

    If they’re being made responsible for offensive comments/posts due to the page being seen as a form of advertising, surely they can censor negativity also?

  9. Dorothy
    6 Aug 12
    12:11 pm

  10. To Andrew’s point – this means we can delete all the negative comments we like, but it also means we’re presenting a very bland and sanitised page. It’s no longer two way conversation or discussion if we just shut everything down.

  11. Lesley
    6 Aug 12
    12:34 pm

  12. I have never understood why brands would want to spend time and money advertising Facebook over their own brands. When an advertising campaign directed people to Facebook – all you end up doing is spending money advertising Facebook. They are clever as the Facebook branding is always the overriding feature.

    I think marketers mistake people “liking” your brand or promotion for legitimate brand engagement and this is a flawed concept. Marketers should spend the money on their own online space – or just keep advertising on TV. It is still king after all.

  13. Chris
    6 Aug 12
    12:38 pm

  14. There’s a big difference between deleting negative comments, and deleting offensive comments.

    Get a social media policy that states this and have it in your page’s tabs. Boom, I just saved you 10 grand in fees from a Social Media specialist.

  15. outandabout
    6 Aug 12
    1:00 pm

  16. Just go to the Telstra Facebook page to see comments posted by their own resellers. It’s creepy stuff.

  17. @FergDelight
    6 Aug 12
    1:15 pm

  18. Wow. Big call. Interesting to see how the lines will be drawn. Given most people in social don’t read ASB rulings. Community Managers may have their hands full (putting mildly) monitoring, removing and then explaining to their constituents why their post has been removed.

    Oh and Lesley… you made me giggle.

  19. GC
    6 Aug 12
    1:19 pm

  20. If a comment posted is in breach then what is the time frame the ASB will classify as reasonable to remove the offending comment?

  21. Anne Miles
    6 Aug 12
    1:25 pm

  22. I wonder if this will affect the tone of sites such as Mumbrella’s and other trade press that have allowed some fairly suss (IMHO) negative commentary in the past?

  23. Carole Goldsmith
    6 Aug 12
    1:28 pm

  24. My goodness – are they going to do the same to Twitter and Linked in too?…We will all have to be really controlled by Big Brother now.

    Social media is controlled to a certain extent…but all this advertising about Face Book may be good for the share value and they may go up to what I paid for FaceBook shares….

  25. Peter Petrovski
    6 Aug 12
    1:36 pm

  26. This is a big move and will mean that brands need to ensure they are adequately resourced if they are committing to a Facebook presence.

  27. Scotty
    6 Aug 12
    1:37 pm

  28. Whoah that $100million facebook commitment now might not be the wisest move made

  29. bandit
    6 Aug 12
    1:40 pm

  30. So let me get this straight. I work for Brand A that is having a little trouble because of competing Brand B.
    All I have to do is go to Brand B’s Facebook page as an alterego, and post something offensive and they have to deal with the consequences?

    This ruling is ridiculous.

  31. Carole Goldsmith
    6 Aug 12
    1:58 pm

  32. Hmmm, from above quote ‘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 advertisers as well as material or comments posted by users or friends’.

    What about all the comments on Mumbrella’s great site, like these comments, is the board going to be monitoring these comments too.

    This is surely government bureaucracy gone crazy!!!! Now they might monitor me and the rest of you…….we had better be careful, now mustn’t we?

  33. Alison Michalk
    6 Aug 12
    2:00 pm

  34. The response to this ruling (questionable as it may be) demonstrates that too many Community Managers are not comfortable with media legislation. We’ve long been aware that we’re legally liable for user-generated-content and this ruling only further increases the scope of this responsibility.

    Most Community Managers with forums experience know to look out for users making exaggerated claims around any products/services of a positive or negative nature, and are also mindful of users offering ‘advice’ be it medical, legal or professional in nature.

    I know I’ve made this point before – but one more time – if a Community Manager knows what they are doing they’ll create a space where tone and culture support and shape the content of the page/space. Community Managers that spend their time simply deleting comments or playing “whack-a-mole” probably aren’t doing much more than keeping your community treading water.

  35. Client
    6 Aug 12
    2:53 pm

  36. ASB sorry to say is just the toothless tiger in this jungle Facebook fans.I am aware of some brands who have had the TGA and ACCC knock on their door because consumers/fans made “therapeutic/ medicinal” claims about the benefits of their products on the “wall”.This is a real worry.

  37. archie
    6 Aug 12
    4:00 pm

  38. another reason why corporates should stay out of social media

    how many more do we need before people start to listen?

  39. Nick
    6 Aug 12
    5:41 pm

  40. Agree with all of the above!
    Essentially veto’ing freedom of speech

  41. reflection
    6 Aug 12
    6:06 pm

  42. I don’t think any of us can be too surprised at the ASB’s ruling. Healthy debate is one thing, but personal abuse is something else. I’m sure readers of ad industry blogs would accept that many people go too far with their comments; and a brand, whether it be a FMCG, or a media company, should be more vigilant in its monitoring of those comments.

  43. Alison Michalk
    6 Aug 12
    6:21 pm

  44. @Nick we don’t have freedom of speech in Australia!

    If websites like the Huffington Post can moderate 250,000 comments a day across 4 languages, as a Community Manager of 8+ years I’m confident brands can handle pages. That is if they stop hiring inexperienced juniors and recognise the value, importance and risk associated with the role.

    What I would like to see however is vastly improved moderation functionality from Zuckerberg! If they insist on shifting liability to brands, for god’s sake given us better tools.

  45. Dani
    6 Aug 12
    7:50 pm

  46. Oh Lesley…what a joker.

    This ruling is ridiculous!

  47. y0z2a
    6 Aug 12
    10:03 pm

  48. This same guidance will apply to YouTube, G+ and Twitter.

    What is a brand to do if someone takes a tweet or video, copies it and then the offending issue arises on the re-post. As the original publisher of the content, the brand cannot be responsible, as if I were to photoshop a Diagio brand ad and promote it on my blog. Only thing they could do would be DMCA or cease and desist. This is more online reputation management, than community management.

    Seems a very strange decision.

    To the points raised about Huffpost moderation, I think with the legality around alcohol advertising, it MAY be a little more complex, however, you make a valid point that moderators of that calibre are in short supply and are commonly found /moderating their own websites or in agencies/large clientside communities.


  49. Bill Posters
    6 Aug 12
    10:29 pm

  50. Dear brands,

    You said you wanted to connect directly with your customers, cut out the middleman, and control your own media empires.

    Well, now you do. These are some of the consequences.


  51. Al
    6 Aug 12
    10:46 pm

  52. Maybe most of the above should spend some time examining the facts rather than just bleating.

    The ASB rationally and realistically determined that the Facebook site of an advertiser is a marketing communication tool over which the advertiser has a reasonable degree of control. Nothing Big Brother about that!

    The issue is the people administering the corporate FB page obviously not realising their responsibilities under the Code.
    Invest some money in community managers.

  53. Sam
    6 Aug 12
    11:24 pm

  54. @ Carole Goldsmith # 16

    It’s not government bureaucracy gone mad – the ASB is a private industry body, nothing government about it.

    I don’t see that big a problem – if someone complains, the ASB finds against the advertiser, then the advertiser simply deletes the offending comment/s.

    Same as agreeing not to run an ad any more

  55. Erik
    7 Aug 12
    8:45 am

  56. @Nick I love how people confuse ‘freedom of speech’ with ‘I can say whatever I want’. That’s not quite how it works mate.

  57. cj
    7 Aug 12
    9:16 am

  58. I really don’t see what the big deal is. If you are willing to invest in social at all, you need to be willing to do it properly and accept responsibility for your presence in that channel – including behavior of other people. No different to if you were hosting the content directly on your own site.

    +1 to comments #25 to #28.

  59. Alison Michalk
    7 Aug 12
    10:00 am

  60. @y0z – If someone copies and republishes the content elsewhere, they become the publisher and assume the liability. Of course if they publish it on another brand’s page – that brand then is responsible for the content. Using legal precedents from forums both brands and individuals could be held accountable, but legal action’s more likely to be taken against the brand.

    Having spent two years with a team of 30 Mods at Essential Baby, I think alcohol regulations aren’t too tricky compared to defamation, discrimination, contempt issues that rear their heads in political debates!

    You’re right in saying it’s part online reputation management but in my mind this falls within the scope of a Senior CM. ‘Tis a strange decision agreed.

    +1 comments 25 & 26

  61. Me
    7 Aug 12
    10:21 am

  62. Facebook is tomorrow’s Myspace, today.

    Save the cash and GTFO it. It’s no where near as popular as you think it is.

  63. Anne Miles
    7 Aug 12
    4:12 pm

  64. I think many people posting here are overlooking the fact that most sites managed by clients have paid for or fake identities of supposed consumers who are adding commentary that steers the path of the conversations on the page. Managing this along with making someone accountable for publishing abuse, lies and defamation is what the intention of these laws is about as far as I can see. As @Erik says it is having someone responsible for the fine line between freedom of speech and breaking the law.

  65. Dorothy
    7 Aug 12
    9:19 pm

  66. Wow Anne, I work for a major agency and manage the pages of a couple of really big brands, and never once has it come up about having paid for/fake identities ‘steering the conversation’. What kind of brands or clients do you work for?!

  67. Danny Bishop
    10 Aug 12
    10:06 am

  68. I’m a little shocked at all the commenters here that claim to be Facebook or Social Media moderators who think this is a new ruling. The ACCC ruled on this more than 12 months ago, and so many of you are acting like the game just changed – it’s been this way since February 2011, and if you didn’t know the rules you’ve been exposing your brands or clients to possibly serious legal ramifications. If you’re going to work in this space, you need to be aware of the laws that govern your activity.

  69. Alison Michalk
    10 Aug 12
    11:25 am

  70. Well said Danny. This ruling has only served to highlight that brands/orgs misunderstand the value and importance of community management/moderation, and that they’re using untrained staff . As someone who’s been closely involved in the industry for years, I’m hoping this is a turning point.

  71. Jerry
    17 Aug 12
    4:57 pm

  72. It’s a brilliant ruling to give the brands a ‘go-ahead’ for control of their pages, as so many uneducated derelicts post on social media ruining brands reputations. What should really be happening though is stricter social media profiles – where individuals are held legally accountable for their comments and can be prosecuted for comments.