A sporting goods store in regional News South Wales has taken to Facebook to name and shame two young shoplifters, resulting in the goods being returned to the store by one of their mothers.
The move to post the images on Facebook is part of an increasing trend of businesses turning to social media to name and shame customers who break the law, prompting media law experts to raise concerns about the legal implications businesses might be opening themselves to.
Surf and sports store Wayne Ritchie’s Albury posted images of the CCTV footage of two boys, who appear to be teenagers, yesterday morning on its Facebook page. The post has since been shared over 1500 times and liked by over 600 people.
“Hey guys, we are just looking to let the boys in the pictures here know that the hoodies under their jackets need to be paid for. Please share away so they remember that they forgot to pay!!” reads the post by the small business.
Wayne Ritchie’s confirmed to SmartCompany the mother of one of the boys had contacted the store this morning to say she would be returning the stolen merchandise with her son this afternoon.
A spokesperson for the store said the motivation behind the post was to deter potential shoplifters, after Wayne Ritchie’s moved to a new store fitted with CCTV six months ago.
Facebook users have largely applauded Wayne Ritchie’s decision to post the images.
“Fantastic way to bring justice, people won’t admit they have a criminal record but this is a way to let everyone know this person is a thief! Thankyou social media!!!” said Kerri-ann Niblett.
Other business owners have also posted about information on the two, in an effort to share information about shoplifters in the area.
“Damn we didn’t get any names but these two ran through the back of our shop (Dares Fruit and Veges) in Wodonga yesterday,” said Bec Hansen.
In a follow-up comment, Wayne Ritchie’s said it will remove the post once the items have been returned.
“Thanks legends for all the help!! It looks like we now have the names of the 2 involved and as soon as the items are either returned or paid for we will remove this post and images!! Thanks again for all the sharing and help!!” read the most recent post to followers.
Despite the positive outcome for Wayne Ritchie’s, Narissa Corrigan, principal at Ampersand Legal, told SmartCompany small business owners should be very careful about the legal implications of naming and shaming people on Facebook.
“There was the case recently at Knox Shopping Centre, where a man was photographed taking a selfie next to a Darth Vader picture and a mother took to Facebook to say he was a paedophile taking pictures of children,” Corrigan says.
“In that case the police came out and said, ‘don’t do it – if you think there’s been a crime committed, report it to police’ and I would agree with that.”
“At the end of the day, it’s not up to people on Facebook to be running a trial before an investigation has taken place,” she adds
Corrigan shares three potential traps to consider before you reach out to your social media network to name and shame.
1. It could be defamation
Corrigan says by suggesting someone has committed a crime by publishing it on social media, a business could face a defamation threat – especially if the person didn’t do it.
“It’s a dangerous thing to do to suggest someone has committed a crime before a police investigation has been undertaken,” she says.
“If there is defamatory material published that is not true, there can be legal action taken against the person who published it.”
2. Be wary of identifying minors
Corrigan says there are laws in the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 that prohibit the publishing of images of children and minors online, especially if you are suggesting those children committed a crime.
She says the younger someone appears to be, the riskier it is to publish images of them.
“From my perspective, the younger someone is the more likely [the business] definitely should not [publish the material],” she says.
3. Beware the backlash
Corrigan says, as with all social media posts, businesses need to be aware there is always a risk they won’t get the reception they are looking for.
“Generally with content posted online, you need to pitch it correctly to make sure you do not get a backlash,” she says.
“The more controversial the post, the more likely it is you will receive a response you hadn’t intended.”
Corrigan says a business should know its audience and make sure they post content they know will be well received.
“Really I would say always tailor it for the right audience,” she adds.