UGC on Facebook Pages subject to Advertising Codes of Conduct
The Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) has recently issued determinations in response to two complaints regarding user generated content (UGC) (including both comments and photos) posted by end users on Facebook Pages administered by well known alcohol brands, VB and Smirnoff. In both cases, the ASB concluded that UGC content posted on Facebook Pages is an "Advertising or Marketing Communication" within the meaning of the AANA Code of Ethics (the AANA Code) and is therefore subject to the AANA Code in the same way as traditional forms of advertising (eg TV commercials and billboards). In each complaint, the brand owners argued that treating UGC as advertising would be “unduly onerous” and “commercially unfeasible” given the degree of control they have over the posts. However, the ASB held that Facebook is a communication tool over which the advertiser has a “reasonable degree of control".
The decisions raise many issues regarding how Facebook Pages (and potentially all social media, including Twitter) are to be moderated and to what extent. Usually, the burden is on the Page owner to moderate Facebook Policy Violations (e.g. hate speech, violent posts, bullying, pornography, racist or offensive comments). However, these decisions suggest that brand owners now have an obligation to police UGC beyond those considerations and to consider, in each case, whether UGC is compliant with the AANA Code, as well as the Australian Consumer Law which prohibits misleading and deceptive conduct. Brand owners who operate a Facebook Page should therefore consider their existing social media policies regarding moderation of UGC and consider strategies such as an automatic takedown rule or the use of an external interface moderation system. While daily monitoring (followed by prompt take down) is arguably a reasonable approach and will help to reduce a brand owner's exposure to legal action, there still remains the risk of adverse PR in the event that the post vetting process fails.
Transition to new business names register complete
On 28 May 2012, a new national business names registration system commenced in Australia. Previously, each State and Territory operated its own business name registration system. The new centralised regime, which is operated by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), consolidates these registers and will reduce the administrative burdens and costs associated with the previous system - businesses now only need to register or renew their name once with ASIC and pay a single fee.
All business names previously held on the State/ Territory based registers have been migrated across to the new national register. Whilst this is automatic and business name owners do not need to do anything to ensure that the transfer process is completed, owners should check the ASIC Register to ensure that all details have been transferred correctly.
There are some points to note about the transfer process. First, where a business name is identical to a registered business name from another State or Territory, ASIC may incorporate a geographical identifier to the name on the Register, but this is not part of the name and will not need to be displayed publicly. Secondly, where business owners own the same business name in multiple jurisdictions, all business names will have transitioned to the national business names register, meaning that some owners may still have multiple identical business names registered to them. To minimise the need to manage multiple business names, business name owners may elect to let duplicate business names expire or cancel duplicate business names and only renew the business name with the latest renewal date.