A legal guide to drafting a social media policy for your company

Last updated on July 11, 2016

The proliferation of the Internet and technology has rendered social media a mainstay in most of our lives. As a business owner, the use of social media needs to be managed with care and diligence.

Whether it is your employee posting a picture of himself at work on Facebook, or your marketing staff handling a company advertisement online, small mistakes on social media platforms could have large consequences for your business reputation. In addition, social media in Singapore is intertwined with many laws governing the usage of media.

Navigating through the legal and social media landscape combined is no mean feat for any business owner. Find out the various laws, rules and regulations regarding the usage of social media in Singapore and how you can manage social media usage in your company with a comprehensive social media policy.

The Infocomm Media Development Authority

The Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA) is the regulatory body which regulates activity on any media platform in Singapore, including television, radio, newspapers, or the Internet. Social media would fall under the category of the Internet.

Legal Issues Regarding Social Media

From a legal point of view, there are actually no statutes in place that directly address the dos and don’ts of social media in Singapore. However, there are many laws that indirectly affect how we can use social media.

This list is not exhaustive, but covers a good breadth of the main laws and guidelines that your social media policy should take into account.

1. Copyright Act

Any usage of copyrighted material (without permission) for the company on social media, will result in an infringement of the Copyright Act. According to section 119(2), the possible types of relief granted to the original owner include injunction, damages, an account of profits or statutory damages (not more than $10,000 for each work or $200,000 in total).

2. Defamation Act

Any defamatory remarks made by your employees on social media will result in an infringement of the Defamation Act. Defamation on social media and its consequences could lead to the company being embroiled in several litigation processes.

3. Protection from Harassment Act

This is similar to the Defamation Act, with a focus towards causing harassment, alarm or distress to the victim rather than reducing the victim’s credibility or affecting his/her reputation as per the Defamation Act. Sections 11 and 12 of the Protection from Harassment Act state that either civil proceedings or even a protection order will be the remedies should your employees cause harassment on social media.

4. Sedition Act

The Sedition Act specifically focuses on employees on social media who attempt to bring hatred or contempt against the Government or administration of justice, or promote feelings of ill-will amongst different races in Singapore. According to section 5, legal proceedings will be carried out against those found guilty of sedition and will be publicly prosecuted.

5. Penal Code

Employees who deliberately wound the racial or religious feelings of a specific person on social media, or seek to create enmity between different racial and religious groups are in violation of section 298A of the Penal Code. According to section 298A (b), they will be punished with a jail term of up to 3 years, a fine, or both.

6. Internet Code of Practice

The Internet Code of Practice from the IMDA is a regulation for business owners to adhere to on what can or cannot be posted on the Internet, i.e. social media. For example, paragraph 4)(2)(f) of the Internet Code of Practice does not allow posts to depict violence or cruelty. Under the Broadcasting Act, the IMDA has the authority to impose fines and sanctions on companies who do not comply with the Internet Code of Practice.

Hence, both the IMDA and certain laws in Singapore govern your company’s usage of social media. Being aware of these laws allows you to subsequently frame your social media policy for your company.

Why Your Business Needs a Social Media Policy

In light of IMDA guidelines and social media-related laws in Singapore, it is important that you have a well-structured and comprehensive social media policy for your company. Here’s why having one will not only benefit your company and your employees in the short run, but also enhance your company’s reputation in the long run:

1. Educating your employees

Having a social media policy for your company will allow everyone to be clear of what is allowed or prohibited, together with the risks involved as a result of social media activity. Having everyone on the same page would be a great way to start managing social media usage in your company.

2. Avoiding potential litigation

A comprehensive social media policy can also enable the company to avoid potential litigation that could arise resulting from social media activity. For instance, should an employee’s action on his/her Facebook page result in the company being sued, your social media policy stating that employees are solely responsible for their personal social media activity would circumvent your company’s implication in the matter. The incident could have been prevented altogether with the right social media policy.

3. Protecting your brand

It should be made clear to everyone in the business that they should never act in a way that jeopardises the company’s brand name on social media. Employees have been fired as a result of their social media activity which damages the company’s brand. Domino’s Pizza is one example, where it fired 2 of its employees from the US who filmed themselves preparing unsanitary sandwiches and subsequently uploading the video on YouTube. Your social media policy will enable everyone to be aware of the implications of their actions on social media on the company’s brand name.

4. Enhancing your reputation

More than just averting problems, your social media policy can serve to enhance your company’s reputation in the long run. It can empower employees as brand ambassadors of the company, by encouraging them to share the company culture and values on social media. This is especially so for smaller businesses, where social media can be a powerful tool for your outreach efforts.

5. Small mistakes could have large consequences

As a company with a reputation to uphold, the acts of your employees online can have many undesirable consequences. Without a clear social media policy in place, your employees may not exercise the necessary discretion that you want them to. There are many examples of employees in different companies who have damaged the company’s reputation over a single incident on social media. A comprehensive social media policy will go a long way in preventing such incidents.

Drafting Your Social Media Policy

Your social media policy has to set out clear rules and regulations and yet not be overly-authoritative or restrictive. You have to balance your employees’ right of expression together with upholding your company’s reputation on social media. It is not about suing the employee if something goes wrong. Rather, your policy acts as a framework to to engage and educate your employees. Ultimately, you should seek to empower your employees on social media, and to constantly think of the good of the company in deciding their choices of action.

In your company, social media can be used for both personal and professional purposes, especially when the company uses social media as a marketing tool. Hence you should seek to address social media activities on both a personal and professional level:

1. Personal usage

This aspect of your social media policy can be focused on your employees’ personal accounts on social media, such as their Facebook or Twitter accounts. Some key aspects to address would be defamatory and offensive posts, harassment, or disclosure of confidential information on social media. Clear guidelines should be clearly set out on what you allow your employees to post on their personal accounts. This also will be in line with IMDA’s Internet Code of Practice.

In addition, employees should never post any confidential information about your company on their personal social media accounts. Protecting your business’ trade secrets and confidential information is also a crucial objective of your social media policy.

Lastly, your social media policy should also make it clear that your employees are solely and personally responsible for what they post on their personal accounts on social media. As employees are also representatives of your company, you need to make it clear that their posts on personal social media are their personal responsibility, and should never implicate the company in any way.

2. Professional usage

This aspect of your social media policy can be focused on your employees’ professional usage of social media. This is especially so for the company’s accounts on social media, or when your marketing team uses social media to spearhead your advertising and outreach campaigns.

One example would be the issue of copyright in accordance with the Copyright Act. Your social media policy should remind employees to always check for copyrighted material before they upload them on the company’s social media accounts.

When using your company’s account on social media, you need to set out your clear objectives for your social media activity, and make it known to employees how you want your company to be represented. For instance, employees representing your company on social media should be wary of commenting on controversial or sensitive issues that could jeopardise your company’s reputation.

In addition, the issue of data protection in your social media policy is also one that employees should also be aware of. It has to be made clear that employees should never share or post about data such as confidential customer information on social media.

Moving Forward with Social Media

Social media can be a powerful tool for your business, increasing outreach to your customers and increasing your brand’s reputation online. However, its utility is also a double-edged sword, as irresponsible usage of social media can result in undesirable repercussions for your company, thus damaging its reputation and credibility.

The idea of a social media policy is not a new one. Large corporations such as Adidas and Best Buy have been credited with having outstanding social media policies for their businesses.

With an extensive social media policy for your company, you are able to strike a balance between managing your employees’ freedom of expression and upholding your company’s credibility on social media. This is done in line with adhering to the various media laws governing social media usage in Singapore. A well thought-out social media policy allows your company to grow both online and offline.

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