Are you a small business owner? Do you use social media as a tool in marketing your business? If you answered yes to these questions then you might not be aware that you are in fact in the eyes of the law considered to be a publisher and that the same media laws that apply to professions such as journalism also apply to you and the things you say online.
On top of this though as a business owner you are not only responsible for the things you yourself publish online, but also to an extent the things said by your employees, customers and the general public.
Take for example the case of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission v Allergy Pathway Pty Ltd (No 2)  in which the company, Allergy Pathway, was found to be in contempt of court for comments that existed on its social media profiles.
In this case the company had been ordered not to make certain misleading statements and comments about its range of health treatments, however these claims continued to appear on the company’s website, the company’s Facebook page and their Twitter feed by way of people outside the company making the comments. The court had to consider whether these comments made by people not employed by the company in fact the responsibility of the company due to the fact they were hosted on mediums managed by the company.
The court found that the comments were in fact the responsibility of the company and the fact that Allergy Pathway did not remove the comments meant that they were in breach of the order to not make these misleading statements and were therefore found to be in contempt of court.
Another example is the advertising guidelines that affect the medical profession in Australia. The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency oversees the advertising of regulated health services and it has in place strict guidelines that professionals must abide by in advertising their services. A key rule is that testimonials by patients cannot be published online by a business.
Many other professions rely on testimonials for business, so this is a unique rule to the health services industry. In order not to breach these guidelines health industry professionals must monitor their social media accounts and website for any testimonials made by patients and remove these accordingly, as they are responsible for the publication of these testimonials even though they did not write nor publish these themselves.
What does this mean for you? Quite simply it means that as a business owner you must take responsibility for not only what you post as the business owner, but also what is posted by others on mediums under your control. This may be a testimonial on your website, a review on your Facebook page, or someone tweeting about your business, amongst a host of other online services.
As being a business owner means you are a publisher, due to the rise of social media, you must be proactive in monitoring what you, your employees and your customers say online about the business.