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Moderate comments or face penalties: ACCC

'You have 24 hours'

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The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has weighed into the row over corporate Facebook pages, telling the The Age it would expect large businesses to be able to act on comments within 24 hours.

Depending on your point of view, Australia either brought its advertising regulations into the Internet age last week, or took a giant leap backwards, when the Advertising Standards Bureau ruled that public comments on corporate Facebook pages – and, for that matter, other business-oriented social media pages – count as advertising.

The decision came after complaints about comments on a Facebook page maintained by Carlton United Breweries to promote its Victoria Bitter brand, and a Smirnoff vodka promotional page.

The Bureau decided that “the Facebook site of an advertiser is a marketing communication tool over which the advertiser has a reasonable degree of control”, and consequently, that user comments could count as a breach of the code of ethics the bureau is responsible for enforcing.

While that decision meant that brands will have to appoint moderators to their social media operations, it led to a deal of hand-wringing over how quickly they would need to kill off offensive material.

The ACCC’s contribution to the debate, made over the weekend, indicates that the consumer watchdog considers 24 hours to be long enough. ACCC commissioner Sarah Court, told Fairfax Media that “If you are a big corporate player with lots of resources that's putting a lot of effort into social media then it wouldn't have to be too long. Perhaps 24 hours or less”.

In particular, the ACCC is concerned about user-posted comments that contain “inaccurate information” either about the brand’s own products, or those of its competitors. False testimonials, for example, would be likely to attract ACCC attention if they weren’t removed.

At least now, big-name Australian brands using Facebook have the “certainty” they so often claim is vital to their businesses… ®

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