The High Court’s social media comments ruling increases risk for brands too

G Squared director George Photios discusses the ramifications of the latest chapter of one of media's biggest battles.

The High Court of Australia has ruled that media outlets are legally responsible for comments that appear on their Facebook Pages. The implications of this ruling are extensive, with the ruling setting a precedent that will likely extend to other platforms, and other brands.

This exposes the risks associated with social media. Content is posted multiple times per day, across multiple platforms, often leading to thousands of comments per day. These comments are monitored during business hours, but most commenting occurs outside of business hours, so potentially damaging comments can be left live for hours, or even days, at a time.


One solution is to disable comments on content (which Facebook now allows). However, disabling commenting on social would flip most social strategies on their heads. While it can be used by publishers, the backlash other brands would face by disabling content would likely lead to more outrage than the comments themselves.

This leaves us with the only other solution, which is to allow commenting, but for brands to mitigate the risk as best they can. There are a few things brands can do to help mitigate that risk, a few of which I’ve outlined below.

The first, and most obvious thing to do, would be to extend social monitoring hours. This allows the brand to escalate internally at all hours and make decisive action before any detrimental brand damage occurs.

Second is to ensure a robust social monitoring tool is being used. Comments need to be monitored not just on content posted by the brand, but that posted individually also, either publicly or in a private Facebook group. Further to this, it’s important to always monitor the platforms themselves, natively. No tool picks up every single post, and many (such as those posted on private groups) can’t be picked up at all.

Third, the role social media plays in a brand’s communications strategy might need to be reassessed. If content is receiving overwhelming negative commentary, particularly that directed at people or groups of people, it’d be worthwhile reviewing the content strategy. Social exists to create meaningful interactions with users. If these interactions are starting to become abusive, perhaps the brand’s tone, angle and topics are what need to be addressed.

Every brand and industry uses social for a different purpose. For a media publisher, it’s impossible to post content that doesn’t mention or target individuals, so that risk needs to be mitigated as much as possible. For a university, which attracts diverse people from all over the world with contrasting views on social and political issues, conversations can turn very quickly. For a retailer, staff can be vilified publicly just by following company policy, whether the brand is ultimately responsible for these is yet to be established.

But the High Court’s ruling has shown the direction brands and businesses are likely to be heading, when it comes to social media.

George Photios is a director of G Squared.


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