The wrong kind of publicity – your charity and social media

Carla Whalen, Partner in the Russell-Cooke Solicitors, charity law and not for profit team,
Carla Whalen
2 min Read

The MS Society recently had to issue a public apology after tweeting an appeal for people to help "turn the streets of Belfast orange". Apparently, the person writing the tweet had only wanted to encourage people to wear the charity's orange branding at a sponsored walk through the city, but it didn't take long for Twitter to notice the controversy. The charity was suddenly in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons and was left having to apologise for the inadvertent reference to the protestant Orange Order.

Most charities use platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn to raise awareness and to promote their work, but with the benefits also come the risks. The speed at which content can be posted, re-posted, and shared means that improper or inappropriate use of social media can all too easily result in unauthorised disclosure of confidential information or personal data, liability for discriminatory or defamatory comments, infringement of third-party intellectual property rights and, significantly, reputational damage.

Although it's not possible to check every post, 'like', or 'favourite' in advance, charities need to have reasonable controls in place to minimise the risks:

  • only authorised users should be given access to social media accounts
  • authorised users should be given training on appropriate use of social media and this training should be refreshed at regular intervals
  • passwords should be changed regularly
  • a social media policy should be in place which clearly sets out what is, and isn't, acceptable
  • authorised users must be familiar with the social media policy
  • disciplinary action should be taken if employees deliberately or repeatedly breach the social media policy

Charities might also consider setting up proportionate internet monitoring and alerts to maintain awareness of discussions and comments being made about them on social media.

We can help your charity put in place, or review, your social media policies and procedures. If something goes wrong, we're always on hand to give advice on managing complaints, reporting serious incidents to the Charity Commission, and reporting personal data breaches to the ICO.

Briefings Charities Charity charity law Russell-Cooke Carla Whalen social media