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‘Views are my own’: social media guidance for charitable organisations

Last Edited: 16th Oct 2023 | First Published: 21st Sep 2023
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Just last month, the Charity Commission issued its eagerly awaited final guidance on the use of social media or charitable organisations, having consulted earlier this year on its draft guidance. We summarise some of the key takeaways and calls to action below.

Social media policy

Social media offers charities, schools and other educational establishments a platform. For educational establishments, this can be used to build their profile, reach out to prospective students, create connections with current students and alumni, and use live streaming for lectures/tutorials and discussions. For charities, it can be a helpful tool to raise awareness and funds, engage with the public and spread their message. However, using social media is not without risks; once posted, content can be hard to undo, and posts can blur the boundaries between professional and personal lives.

To help maximise the potential benefits of social media while managing the potential risks, charities, all schools and other educational establishments that use social media ought to have a social media policy in place (and must have one if their organisation is charitable). The final guidance recognises the need for a  social media policy to be proportionate to its needs; there is no one-size-fits-all approach to this. In broad terms, however, the policy should cover the following:

  • Why? The policy should set out why the organisation is using social media and establish how social media will help deliver its purpose in order to help governors/trustees, staff, and volunteers engage appropriately on social media.
  • Who? The policy should set out who is responsible for managing the organisation’s social media accounts, both daily and in the event things go wrong. Unlike the draft, the final guidance makes clear that governors/trustees not only have a role in setting and reviewing the policy but also “in dealing with any significant social media issues or crises”. The role of governors/trustees is arguably more onerous under the final guidance; when carrying out this role, governors/trustees need to be careful not to step outside the realm of governance and into operational matters.
  • What? Just as social media can be used to post engaging and beneficial content, so too can it be used to post harmful and inappropriate content. An organisation’s social media policy should, therefore, make clear what can and cannot be posted, including how the charity will engage with the public on social media/moderate comments on the charity’s account from the public.

All those responsible for managing the organisation’s social media channels (e.g. governors, trustees, staff and volunteers) must be familiar with and comply with the policy.

Freedom of expression on wider issues

In relation to what can be posted, the final guidance clarifies that organisations can use social media in risky contexts, such as engaging in “emotive issues”. However, an organisation may only engage on “emotive issues” if this furthers the organisation’s purpose and is in its best interests, provided that such engagement is conducted with “respect and tolerance”.  Given the potential for criticism, governors/trustees may also want to consider taking independent advice from a “suitably qualified person”.

Content posted on personal accounts 

The final guidance clarifies that employees, governors, trustees and volunteers have the right to exercise their freedom of expression within the law in their communications, including when using social media. For example, an individual (in their personal capacity) can post in support of a particular political party, which is something a charitable organisation cannot do.

The final guidance also provides welcome clarity that there is “no expectation that governors/trustees monitor personal social media accounts”. That said, if they do become aware of potentially negative posts by individuals associated with the organisation, “they should consider what action to take to protect the organisation”. The risk of a post negatively affecting an organisation will need to be considered on a case-by-case basis, considering factors such as the seniority, following and influence of the person making the post, and in what capacity they are allegedly making the post. This is likely to be a difficult area for governors/trustees to contend with; it is not black and white.

Concluding thoughts

Given the increasing use of social media, the publication of the Charity Commission’s first-ever social media guidance is welcomed. It is now time for charitable organisations which use social media to update (or create!) their social media policy in light of the guidance and ensure that they have appropriate systems and processes in place to mitigate the risks that social media can pose.

If you need help preparing or reviewing your social media policy or have any questions about the issues addressed in this article, please get in touch with Alison Jones on 0191 211 7930 or email [email protected]

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