Teenage girl referred to by ASIC over false press release

A 16-year-old girl has been referred to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission for emailing out a fake press release on behalf of gas drilling company Metgasco, The Age reports.

The bogus press release, which The Age reports was part of an April Fools’ prank, claimed Metgasco was pulling out of New South Wales. As a result the company was forced to issue a statement of their own, informing shareholders and investors that the press release was in fact a hoax.

“Metgasco Limited has been made aware of a hoax media release suggesting that Metgasco will cease conducting unconventional gas activities in the Clarence Moreton Basin,” the statement said. “There is no substance to the hoax media release. Metgasco intends to continue its conventional and unconventional gas exploration and development activities.”

The prank follows the Whitehaven Coal hoax in January last year. NSW anti-coal activist Jonathan Moylan has been charged over allegedly sending out a false press release on behalf of the company, which claimed the ANZ Bank had withdrawn a loan to the open-cut coal mine worth more than $1 billion. The fake release temporarily wiped $314 million from Whitehaven Coal’s share value.

Under corporation law, false or misleading statements can result in 10 years in jail or a whopping $765,000 fine. Matthew McLennan, partner at Allens, says he thinks the teenager in question over the Metgasco press release would not be given such a harsh sentence.

“It’s unlikely that anyone would ever be prosecuted to that degree,” he told SmartCompany.

McLennan says it’s important that businesses react quickly to address the issue of false or misleading statements. His advice comes in three simple but effective steps.

“Number one: issue a corrective statement,” he says. “Number two, report the perpetrator to ASIC. Three, put people who are or might republish the false statement on notice that it is false.”

Exposing the false press release is a good move, says McLennan, because it draws attention to the person spreading false information.

“Exposing it as a prank or hoax is effective because the story itself becomes that rather than ending up as a debate about what is and what isn’t true, which could give more airtime to the hoax.”

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