The Charity Commission has published new guidance for England and Wales on charities and social media. It begins:
“Social media can be a powerful communication tool for charities, to raise awareness and funds and to better engage beneficiaries. It can help charities reach a much wider audience, much more quickly, than traditional methods of communication.
But it can introduce risks:
- its fast pace can increase the risk of posting content that is inappropriate or harmful
- content, once posted, can be hard to undo
- professional and personal lives can overlap, and the line can become blurred.
It is important to think about how your charity can use social media effectively to benefit your charity, the risks it may bring, and how you can manage those risks, including by acting reasonably and responsibly to protect your charity.
If your charity uses social media, you are responsible for:
- agreeing and putting in place a social media policy so that you have internal controls that are appropriate and proportionate for your charity’s needs and which are clear to everyone at the charity using social media
- ensuring your social media policy is regularly reviewed to check it is working effectively and fits your charity’s needs
- ensuring your charity’s social media use helps you achieve your charity’s purpose (what your charity was set up to do) and in a way that is in your charity’s best interests
- complying with relevant laws
- ensuring any campaigning or political activity that your charity does on social media complies with the rules on political activity and campaigning
- ensuring your processes help you keep people safe online including any extra considerations when dealing with vulnerable users. Read the “Operating online” section of our guidance on safeguarding.”
The original draft seemed to suggest that charities should monitor their employees’ and volunteers’ personal use of social media. Farrer & Co commented that the draft guidance was rather vague on this point:
“It is also troubling (particularly in the context of charity employees) because even where an individual’s profile has nothing in it which references their employer, it is often quite straightforward to identify a connection to their workplace. It would in our view have an inhibitive effect on charity workers’ freedom of expression if they were discouraged from expressing personal views on social media for fear of creating a perception that those personal views reflect the views of their charity.”
Charles Russell Speechlys suggested that the section of the draft on the personal social media accounts of trustees, employees and volunteers should be expanded “to make it clear that trustees do not have a duty to oversee personal accounts.”
The final guidance seems to have taken the point about the implied interference with Article 10 rights in the draft version. The final version states unequivocally that:
“Trustees, charity employees and any other individuals have the right to exercise their freedom of expression within the law in their communications, including when using social media. This includes personally supporting a particular political party or (during an election) a particular candidate, something a charity cannot do. However, trustees should be aware of the potential for content posted by individuals in their personal capacity being associated with the charity.
There is no expectation that trustees monitor personal social media accounts.” [emphasis added].
The guidance does, however, go on to suggest that if trustees “become aware of content posted or shared by an individual being associated with and having a negative effect on the charity, they should consider what action to take to protect the charity” – which, I would suggest, is not unreasonable.