A number of clubs have a strong social media presence on social networking platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. Despite the many benefits of clubs having a social media presence, the use of social media by clubs (and its members) is not without its pitfalls. From time to time, members may misuse those social media platforms by posting unacceptable comments on the club’s social media pages (such as its Facebook page) or their own social media pages which disparage, ridicule or otherwise brings into disrepute the club and its directors, officers and employees. This raises an important question of what your club can do if a member makes unacceptable comments about the club and its employees on social media.

What can your club do if a member makes unacceptable comments on social media?

As a first step, clubs should ensure that copies of the “unacceptable comments” are retained by the club as evidence of those comments actually being made. This could involve the club printing copies of the comments, “screen shotting” the comments using a mobile phone or “print screening” the comments on your computer. This will be important evidence if the member denies posting those comments. After the club has retained copies of those “unacceptable comments”, the club should remove those comments from the social media platform if it can do so.

Each social media platform has a reporting mechanism for posts, photos and videos. Once you have reported or flagged the comment, it is up to the social media platform to decide on whether the post has violated the terms of their community guidelines, pursuant to the reason it has been reported for. The social media platform will usually send an update on its decision via a notification to your account. The comment you have reported may or not be removed according to the guidelines of the social media platform.

Meta, the company that owns Facebook and Instagram, will allow a user to report a comment, photo or video for bullying and harassment. If the content reported on is deemed not to violate their standards and the user does not agree with that decision, Facebook and Instagram can allow an appeal to their Oversight Board. However, in order to obtain an Oversight Board reference number, the user “…must have exhausted Meta’s appeals process and received a final content decision from Meta”.

It is therefore important to keep a screenshot of the comment where it first appeared, in case the social media platform decides it meets the criteria for removal and deletes it before there is a chance to capture the evidence. The next step is to determine how the club should deal with the member who has made the unacceptable comments.

Social Media Policy and Disciplinary Proceedings

Additionally, many clubs have social media policies which state that the making of unacceptable comments on social media will constitute grounds for the club to commence disciplinary proceeding against the member. The adoption of such a policy allows the club to issue two (2) charges (i.e one charge for making the unacceptable comments and a further charge for breaching a policy of the club). However, a club can commence disciplinary proceedings against a member who makes unacceptable comments on social media even if it does not have a social media policy in place. If a club commences disciplinary proceedings against a member for making unacceptable comments on social media, the club should be aware of the requirements and the procedure to be followed for disciplinary proceedings contained in the club’s constitution and the club should ensure that they should strictly comply with those requirements and that procedure.

We have assisted many clubs in dealing with unacceptable comments on social media (including the disciplinary proceeding process) and we have also prepared a number of social media policies for clubs. If you would like our assistance with dealing with unacceptable comments on social media and/or preparing an appropriate policy, please get in touch with the Clubs Team.

Further Information and Contact Details

Should you wish to discuss any aspect of this Newsletter or want any legal advice about these matters, please contact any member of the Clubs team on 8251 7777 or by email:

Bruce Gotterson:b.gotterson@pigott.com.au
Ray Travers:r.travers@pigott.com.au
Tony Johnston:t.johnston@pigott.com.au
John Ralston:j.ralston@pigott.com.au
Michael McCluskey:m.mccluskey@pigott.com.au
Julian Hawkins:j.hawkins@pigott.com.au

This publication is produced by Pigott Stinson. It is intended to provide general information only. The contents of this publication do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought from us in respect of the matters set out in this publication. Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.