Call for action on social media code

17 October, 2013

Current rules governing the drinks industry’s use of social media may not be fit for purpose, according to a concerned supplier.

Hi-Spirits has fallen foul of the Advertising Standards Agency after Facebook pages for its Fireball and Antica sambuca brands were found to have breached the ASA code.

But Jeremy Hill, chairman of Hi-Spirits, said the code was created to monitor more traditional forms of advertising and may not work in the complex world of social media.

He told OLN: “There should be a wider discussion because I am not sure whether the current regulations are totally compatible with social media. It’s a big new world out there and conventional wisdom is being applied to social media, but we need to be careful that we are not stepping over the line and stopping people’s freedom of expression.”

Most complaints about Hi-Spirits actually related to what Facebook fans had posted on its pages, but Hill admits the company should have been more vigilant.

He said: “The ASA acts on the information it is given. It has acted absolutely within its remit and within its code. Some of what we have done has clearly fallen short of what that code says.

“However, I sometimes wonder about the motivations of those who reported those instances, but you cannot argue with the fact we were found to be in breach of the regulation.”

But he added: “The partiality has to be considered too. For instance, if a company had a page with 1 million fans, it would have to dedicate considerable resources to trawling through user comments. It would be a logistical nightmare even for the biggest companies, which means a smaller company would just be forced to close theirs down or face the continual backlash.”

Hi-Spirits is gearing up for an in-house seminar from the ASA on the current rules.

Hill said: “We have engaged with the ASA on many levels to ensure we do understand the current regulations, but beyond that there needs to be a discussion on whether the current regulations are fit for purpose.”

The ASA is in the second year of an extended remit that sees it police social media and online channels, and it has conducted a year-long review of whether it needs to tighten its rules, which it is currently consulting on.

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