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Within the last few weeks, the Charity Commission has issued updated guidance on how charities should engage with social media.
The bottom line taken by the regulator is that, as much as social media brings benefits in raising awareness and funds and reaching audiences, it also brings risks which need to be managed. In their guidance they have focused on protecting charities’ interests whilst ensuring compliance with the law.
The fast pace of social media means it’s all too easy to post something that’s inappropriate, offensive or breaches the law. As we’ve seen in many instances, politics and charities are uneasy bedfellows’ Now the Charity Commission has clarified that charities can take part in that political activity and engage on those emotive issues which support their purpose and is in their best interests, but they must remain independent and not give their support to a political party.
And the updated guidance goes beyond politics and campaigning. It rightly encourages charities to establish and enforce a social media policy to avoid problems in the first place and then help deal with them when they do arise.
The key features of such a policy are:
1. It should detail how social media aligns with the charity’s purpose and include “appropriate and proportionate” internal controls for those trustees, employees and volunteers who use social media on the charity’s behalf. For example, this might include telling key stakeholders in advance of your plans to publish ‘controversial’ content or planning for a potential crisis. The detail and resource should be in proportion to the level of risk posed by how the charity uses social media.
2. It should have guidelines for managing the risk that personal content posted by individuals connected to the charity (such as the CEO) brings. Even though trustees and employees have the right to express themselves within legal boundaries and there is no expectation upon trustees to monitor personal social media accounts, due consideration needs to be given to how this might negatively impact the charity’s reputation.
3. It should consider the impact on resources and staff. Social media can bring out the worst in humanity so planning for how staff need to be supported when dealing with online criticism and abuse should be assessed.
There is a lot of helpful information on the Charity Commission’s updated guidance, including how to develop a social media policy: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/charities-and-social-media