Concerns shared as regulator publishes social media guidance for trustees

17 Jan 2023 News

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The Charity Commission has published draft guidance for trustees on how charities should use social media and has asked the sector to respond.

Its guidance warns that social media posts by someone who works or volunteers for a charity can be seen as reflecting the views of the organisation itself and urges trustees to set rules and plan responses to negative attention the charity may receive.

Sector figures welcomed the Commission’s publication of updated guidance but expressed concern over its warning around personal social media accounts and urged it to offer further recommendations in other areas.

Charities have eight weeks to share their views before the Commission begins work on its final guidance, which it plans to publish in the summer.

Guidance ‘encroaches into charity workers’ private lives’

Rosamund McCarthy Etherington, partner at Stone King, said it was important for charities to have a social media policy but warned that the Commission’s guidance “encroaches into the private lives of trustees, staff members and employees”.

Etherington said that the Commission’s recommendation for trustees to set rules on workers’ personal accounts “raises fundamental issues in relation to protected philosophical beliefs under the Equality Act 2010 and Article 10 freedom of speech rights”.

“If this guidance is not challenged, does it mean that all staff members, trustees and volunteers (regardless of seniority or role) will have to have two social media accounts - one for pure charity business and one for their personal views - particularly as the draft also says that posts need to be linked to the charity's objects,” she wrote in a blog.

Etherington said it was unclear from the guidance what “inappropriate content” might include and suggested it might have the effect of “neutering civil society”.

Zoe Amar: ‘More guidance on crisis preparation would be useful’

Freelance consultant Zoe Amar said trustees would benefit from further emphasis in the guidance on putting a process in place for crisis management.

“From what I could see there, there didn't seem to be so much about what's that process that you're going to follow when something goes wrong,” she told Civil Society News.

“Having that real clarity over what the process is – exactly what people need to do, what, when and where – it’s absolutely key in any crisis situation.”

She warned that on social media, “you can do serious damage to any organisation's reputation within 20 minutes”.

Commission: ‘Some trustees have limited oversight of social media’

The Commission said its guidance aims to clarify trustees’ existing duties rather than creating any new responsibilities for them.

“We know from our work that some trustees have limited oversight of their charities’ use of social media and can have limited understanding or confidence when it comes to digital channels,” said Paul Latham, director of communications and policy at the Commission. 

“Whilst it is reasonable for trustees to delegate day-to-day operation of social media, as with other matters, we want to ensure they feel empowered to take charge of their charity’s approach by adopting a suitable social media policy, and know what to consider should issues arise.

“We appreciate that this can be tricky territory, and one where personal and professional lives and opinions can overlap, which is why we are consulting widely to make sure we get this right.”

Charities, trustees, staff and supporters, representative bodies and the wider public can respond to the consultation, which will run for eight weeks before closing at 5pm on 14 March.

Responses can be made via an online survey and additional information or responses can be made via a dedicated mailbox.

The Commission’s final guidance is due to be published in the summer.

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