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Time to dust down your social media policy?

Social media can help your charity build brand awareness and share organisational updates, but it is not without risks.

Social media can help your charity build brand awareness and share organisational updates, but it is not without risks.

The Charity Commission has published guidance to help you minimise issues surrounding social media usage. Mark Lewis, head of Charity Law, outlines the key considerations.

If you do not already have one, set a social media policy

This will help trustees, staff, and volunteers understand how your charity uses social media. The policy should also provide guidance on how to engage with the public on social media, set out conduct requirements, and explain what to do if something goes wrong.

Managing potential risks when posting content

The Commission states that your charity should ensure that social media usage is likely to comply with any relevant laws, such as copyright and defamation laws, as well as UK GDPR rules.

Bear in mind that publishing some content can even result in a criminal offence. This includes content that is indecent, grossly offensive, or threatening, in addition to communications that constitute a hate crime or are otherwise malicious.

To this extent, the Commission suggests that if your charity is involved with vulnerable individuals or campaigns around controversial topics, you may wish to consider seeking independent advice from a qualified professional.

Within its guidance, the Commission emphasises the importance of having procedures in place for dealing with breaches of your policy, including considering whether to report any serious incidents to them. Ensuring your charity’s reputation isn’t harmed is part of charity trustees’ duties.

The policy could also include information on the potential of an individual’s personal use of social media to impact the charity.  

The Commission’s guidance makes clear that trustees are not required to monitor personal social media accounts. However, if the charity becomes aware of an individual associated the charity posting content that has a negative impact on the charity, they should consider what action to take.

Engaging with emotive topics

If your charity discusses emotive topics, the Commission suggests that you consider how this could affect your organisation’s reputation, the impact it might have on staff and resources, and whether your complaints process is fit for purpose.

Campaigning and/or political activity

If you are posting on social media, you need to be especially careful around election time. Your charity’s purpose must be for the public benefit and an organisation will not be charitable if its purpose is purely political. So, political campaigning cannot be a charity’s sole activity.

Fundraising via social media

The Code of Fundraising Practice applies to fundraising on social media and outlines the legal rules and standards required for fundraising. This includes the principle that your fundraising must be legal, open, honest, and respectful. The Commission expect charities to fully comply with the Code.

Staying safe online

The Commission requests that charities adopt processes to manage who has access to their social media accounts, and to maintain overall social media security. You should know how to identify and report fake accounts for individuals or charities, as they can share inappropriate content, harming your charity’s reputation.

The National Cyber Security Centre has produced the following guides which it may be helpful to be share with your team:  ‘Social Media – Protect What You Publish Guide’ and ‘Social Media and how to use it safely’.

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Emily Brampton, Lodders Solicitors

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