Solicitors in Westminster, London
Updates to Charity Commission Social Media Guidance
The Charity Commission ("the Commission") recently updated their social media guidance (Charities and social media - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)). Whilst the updated guidance does not deviate significantly from previous advice, the availability in one place of the Commission's guidance relating to social media is a useful reminder of some key themes with which trustees should familiarise themselves. One point particularly highlighted is the Commission's willingness to hold trustees to account for any breaches of their social media requirements.
A useful aspect of the combining of the Commission's policies relating to social media is that it is now very clear where a charity's social media activities may engage with other strands of Commission Guidance, in particular the connection with guidance on Campaign and Political Activity (particularly during elections and referenda) and on Fundraising. Whilst these may seem intrinsic aspects of a charity's activities, trustees should take the time to consider how the prism of social media alters how their activities are perceived. For example, the wider audience reached by social media posts compared with more traditional communication or fundraising campaigns amplifies potential positive outcomes as well as providing a platform for criticism. Trustees should always be mindful of the need to assess whether activities are in the charity's best interests and how such activities help to achieve their charitable purpose.
The liability of trustees in relation to social media is broad and it is important that trustees are fully aware of the risks inherent in engagement with social media. Trustees should understand the gradient of risk, recognising that the risk for a charity varies greatly depending on the publicly perceived closeness of a social media account with a charity and the content of any posts shared by such accounts. For example, a senior charity leader whose social media account references their role may be interpreted as representing the charity's views when they post online. It is therefore imperative that trustees foster a culture of careful curation in social media usage, ensuring that posts which may be interpreted as being connected with the charity are in line with the charitable purpose and do not cause harm or distress.
Trustees should also be aware that their liability encompasses any charity-managed social media pages or profiles. They should engage with social media providers to report any third party comments which may cause harm or distress to other social media users and, where practical, utilise tools to moderate comments and posts on charity-managed pages before they are published.
Ensure the charity has a social media policy
Given the liability borne by trustees, it is vital that trustees both set a clear social media policy and train their volunteers, and those who interact with their charity, in its content. Such a policy should explain the risks of blurring the lines between personal views and those of the charity. The Commission recommends the use of phrases such as 'these views are my own and not the charity's'. It does, however, acknowledge that individuals who are publicly associated with a charity may be misunderstood as representing the charity's viewpoint and a general approach of respect and tolerance of others may be the only way to effectively minimise the risk to the charity. The policy itself will therefore need to be bespoke to each charity, assessing the current level of risk faced by a charity's social media presence, the quantity of key stakeholders who will be governed by the policy, and the impact on the charity's resources of managing online complaints and/or abuse.
Social media and serious incident reporting
Having explained the risks inherent in using social media, a charity's Social Media Policy should also work in tandem with its Serious Incident Reporting Policy. Trustees are obliged to report all serious incidents to the Commission. Therefore, any activity on social media, whether actual or alleged, which risks significant harm to anyone in contact with the charity, the charity's assets, or reputation must be reported by the trustees to the Commission at the earliest opportunity. Trustees can delegate the power to report in their Serious Incident Reporting Policy but they remain ultimately responsible to the Commission for reporting all serious incidents. Ensuring the charity's policies dovetail in this area will provide a framework for minimising the risks of ongoing reputational damage. Social media is a fast-developing sphere of charitable activities and it is likely that the Commission's guidance will continue to adapt with advances in technology. It is therefore worth re-evaluating the charity's policies regularly to reduce the opportunity for incidents to put the charity at risk in future.
LBMW have a range of up-to-date policies which can be tailored for your charity so please do contact us if you would like our support and guidance in developing your charity's policies. We also run a series of webinars throughout the year on charity governance and the implementation of the Charities Act provisions. To see a list of our upcoming webinars and to sign-up, please visit our Events page.
The contents of this article do not constitute legal advice and are provided for general information purposes only. The contents are copyright of Lee Bolton Monier-Williams LLP. All rights reserved.