Smirnoff controversy prompts Facebook comments warning

Start-ups are being urged to monitor comments left on their Facebook pages, after the parent company of Smirnoff failed to monitor distasteful comments made by its Facebook “fans”.


A complaint was made to the Advertising Standards Board in relation to Smirnoff’s parent company Diageo, which argued Diageo has an obligation to police the activity of fans on the Smirnoff Facebook page.


The complaint was made following a barrage of comments made by the brand’s Facebook “fans”, which included obscenity, sexism, racism, and depictions of irresponsible drinking.


In the end, Smirnoff’s Facebook page was given the all-clear by the ASB.


But John Swinson, a partner at law firm King & Wood Mallesons, told SmartCompany the case has important implications for the management of social media.


Swinson said a lot of businesses already have people monitoring their Facebook pages, but the ASB decision suggests a higher level of scrutiny is needed.


He warns this stricter approach may be “counterproductive” as a Facebook page is a way for businesses to have conversations with customers, but this conversation must now be censored.


“It makes Facebook less authentic and if that happens users will just stop going there because you are not seeing the real story,” Swinson said.


Swinson said if someone posts something on social media that is not offensive but is incorrect or misleading, it should be corrected rather than taken down.


“Rather than censoring, which I think is going too far, I think commenting to correct the record is the appropriate thing to do,” he said.


Here’s how three different companies dealt with negative comments:


1. Westpac


Earlier this year, Westpac took to Facebook to explain the bank’s decision to increase interest rates. However, the post attracted a wave of negative comments, which were promptly deleted.


Needless to say, people weren’t happy.


“So Westpac deletes negative comments. Seems like they are a company that cannot be trusted,” one Facebook user wrote.


“I have posted my comments above THREE TIMES to their wall and it has been deleted within a minute or two everytime!!!!” another said.


2. York Butter Factory


In April, the York Butter Factory deleted a controversial tweet sent by a staff member after it was slammed as “sexist” “disrespectful” and “misogynistic”.


The YBF staff member tweeted: “Techs are the pussy of the start-up scene, fill the club with them and the business guys will follow. Got tech chops? @YorkButter wants you!”


In addition to deleting the tweet, YBF tweeted an apology, insisting the original tweet “didn’t mean to offend anyone” and “the employee acknowledges it was in poor taste”.


This was followed by a full-blown apology issued by YBF founders Stuart Richardson and Darcy Naunton.


3. Kogan Technologies


“We have never deleted a single comment from the Kogan Facebook, Twitter, blog or YouTube pages,” Kogan Technologies founder Ruslan Kogan told StartupSmart in October last year.


“We know that once a medium turns from transparent to opaque, customers will quickly learn to look elsewhere for the truth.”


“We are fast approaching the point where, if a business is afraid of transparency, you can safely assume they’ve got something to hide.”


“So, I implore all honest businesspeople to take the transparent approach.”


“Harness the power of social media and use it to engage in meaningful dialogue with all your stakeholders – your business will reap the benefits.”


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