The digital industry is up in arms about a ruling from the ad watchdog, which determined a brand's Facebook page is an ad platform with all its material - including user-generated content - liable under the AANA code.
A recent ruling from the Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) in a complaint against Diageo said it considered Facebook to be a marketing communication tool. The decision changes the landscape of social media advertising with brands liable for content generated by consumers.
Hard Hat Digital director of strategy Dan Monheit said: “The idea of brands having to regulate comments and opinions of fans that might be deemed 'unsustainable claims' is misguided at best. Forgetting the practicality of actually enforcing this, Facebook makes it very clear who's posting which comments and when.
“To think that people can't distinguish between a post from a brand and an opinion from a fan is borderline insulting. In the same way, if you walked in to a cafe and heard somebody tell their friend that it was the best cafe in town, you'd understand that this was an opinion and not a statement of fact.”
Monheit said most brands are doing their best to keep sexist, racist and generally offensive comments off their wall.
TCO founder and chief executive Clive Burcham said: “The ruling will scare the industry. We're only just getting marketers around to the concept of social marketing – and not all marketers. We don't need them to be more conservative than they already are.” He added that it's generally known the objective of platforms such as Facebook is to create communities and consumer engagement.
Reactive co-founder Tim O'Neill said the move opened a can of worms for the industry. O'Neill said consumers won't understand or be sympathetic to increased moderation as a result of the ABS ruling and there could be a backlash.
In its ruling, the ASB wrote: “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 Code applies to the content generated by the advertisers as well as material or comments posted by users or friends.”
The complaint against Diageo was dismissed.
Another issue raised by the development is Facebook's own culpability for the content. Under Facebook's terms and conditions, the social media company holds the intellectual property rights of content posted to its network.
Earlier this year, Melbourne man Joshua Meggitt launched legal action against Twitter as the publisher of a defamatory tweet after settling a suit against writer Marieke Hardy, the author of the original tweet.
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