In a landmark decision, the Advertising Standards Board (ASB) has decided that all comments on commercial Facebook pages, including comments posted by members of the public, are regarded as advertisements for the brand behind the page.
This means all comments on commercial Facebook pages must comply with the advertising regulations. For alcohol brands and products, the advertising regulations include the alcohol industry’s self- regulated Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code (ABAC).
The ASB ruling was provoked by a complaint against the Smirnoff Vodka Facebook page. A complainant alleged that comments posted on Smirnoff’s page were offensive, sexist and depicted underage and irresponsible drinking.
Although the ASB dismissed the specific complaints it decided that comments posted on Facebook fit the definition of advertising:
“any material which is published or broadcast using any medium or any activity which is undertaken by or on behalf of an advertiser or marketer and over which the advertiser has reasonable control and draws the attention of the public calculated to promote … a product [or] service …”
According to the ASB, commercial companies are responsible for all comments that are published on their Facebook pages because they control the sites. It means third party-generated, untruthful or offensive comments posted by anonymous ‘friends’ on commercial Facebook pages will be subject to consumer protection laws and regulations governing advertising.
A legal opinion quoted by The Age(1) suggested untruthful comments could include the assertion that ‘X vodka is Russian’ or that ‘X vodka is the purest vodka’ if those statements make a false claim. A statement such as ‘drinking B beer leads to sexual success’ would contravene the advertising regulations and the ABAC. Of course much advertising is designed to convey those messages by implication or association, but without making blatant claims.
If you identify comments on Facebook pages that breach the regulations, refer your complaint to the Advertising Standards Board.
Head of Policy & Advocacy
(1) J Lee, ‘Social media pages are ‘ads’’ 6 August 2012, The Age
Advertising Standards Board determinations (July 2012) (see case 0272/12), or download Advertising Standards Bureau case report 0272/12 [PDF: 359KB]