By Munir Suboh
With the increased usage of social media, companies and employers find themselves obliged to establish policies for employees to provide acceptable, reasonable, safe and common-sense guidelines and recommendations for using social media responsibly.
Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, Snapchat and other social media platforms are always viewed as public activities and regardless of users' privacy controls or the size of followers list.
Developing a policy document
Employers need to make sure their employees are adhering to certain rules when dealing with social media. When employers develop policies, employees become aware of the clear internal policy in dealing with social media accounts. Such policies, once circulated or annexed to employment contracts, allow employers to enforce some rules and ensure control over their employees' behaviour that may impact their employer's position.
For instance, employees become aware that they must not post disparaging or defamatory statements about their profession, organisation, clients, suppliers and vendors on any online platform. Other affiliates and stakeholders should also avoid any social media communication that might be construed as damaging to a business's reputation, even indirectly. Employees should be aware and remember that all content posted, published or written on social media may be available to be read by the masses (including the organisation itself, future employers and social media users).
Employees are encouraged to use social media as a tool to develop their social placement and to ensure the content improves its marketing approach, professional profiles......etc.
In absence of appropriate authorisation by the employers, employees should always take care to avoid giving the appearance that content posted on social media platforms is an official statement on behalf of their employers.
Business and revenue generating. Employees can use social media to generate business. Polices should be in place to deal with this prospect and ensure that employees do not violate local regulations in conducting business, complying with tax regulations and most importantly not becoming involved in competition conduct or committing a free riding activity to employers' brands/trademarks.
Respecting trademarks, brand reputations, intellectual property rights and confidential information
Employees should always be conscious to act in a manner that would not jeopardise valuable trade secrets, confidential information or undermine the brand reputation of their employers or any other third parties. Employees should avoid misappropriating or infringing the intellectual property of other companies and individuals, such as selling products from suspicious sources which can create liability for the employers as well as the individual author/holder of social media accounts.
Policies should always oblige employees refrain from using a third party's or the employers' logos, brand names, slogans or other trademarks, or posting any confidential or proprietary information without prior written permission.
Negative statement. Employees should avoid posting comments online about sensitive business-related topics, such as employers' performance or any other issues relating to HR and administration that are considered sensitive or negative.Even if employees post content with clear disclaimer, such posts or comments could still damage employers' reputation and may reflect poorly on everyone involved.
Reference: Employers should always keep a reference available to discuss or answer any questions that employees may have about their posts. Employers should be reasonable with their assessment and consider the Employee's entitlement to freedom of speech and not take a conservative approach when responding to such enquiry.
Respecting colleagues, clients, partners,and suppliers of employers
Employees should always avoid posting anything that colleagues, clients, partners, suppliers, vendors or other associated entities would find offensive.
General discriminatory comments, insults or obscenities may be criminalized in certain jurisdictions therefore employees are encouraged to refrain from posting any material that may expose them to legal action. Many regulations, including cybercrime laws, permit serious sanctions for the misuse of social media and employees need to be educated on these laws and regulations before actively posting. Sessions and awareness programs organized by employers to educate employees on proper social media etiquette can be very beneficial.
Newly introduced regulatory and licensing requirements
The UAE National Media Counsel has recently in 2018 issued a binding decision that will put governance measures on online advertisements, products placement, marketing and/or any other commercials posted on social media. Therefore, holders of Social media accounts, including celebrities, figures, fashionistas...etc, that commercialize products, endorse or market brands via social media, or any person/entity residing in the UAE that generate revenues from advertisements on such platforms will be subject to licensing requirements, payment of nominal official fees and therefore likely be recommended to regularize their activity in a form of legal entity. They will also need to register before Tax authorities in the UAE to settle any Value Added Taxes "VAT" accumulated on their revenues. In addition and according to the new decision by NMC, there are explicit obligations on social media content to ensure their posts are in compliance with the regulations. I list below some of these interesting and newly introduced obligations to the practice of social media accounts in our region:
- Maintain in records for twelve months (12) after posting;
- Take a full responsibility on all published content under its social media account and this obligation is applicable regardless if the activity is licensed or not yet.
- Under certain circumstances, they are obliged to monitor their social media accounts and restrict certain types of comments and contributions made by third parties, namely those made in violation of media content measures or considered as crime according to the UAE applicable regulations;
- Posts should be in compliance with media content rules, regulations and policies. The content for instance should in compliance with moralities, public orders and the UAE regulations.
Appoint a Social Media lawyer
Always seek assistance from specialized lawyers to help with drafting policies, preparing do/don't terms for employees and ensuring the same are practically and legally enforceable in the jurisdiction. Social media specialized lawyers can assist companies in dealing with crisis's, the takedown of offensive materials, posts, control accounts and build cooperation with social media service providers as needed.
Your lawyer will be able to advise your company and employees to ensure compliance with local regulations when generating business from such social media accounts. The lawyer can also confirm licensing implications, procedures and deal with any tax implementation.