New Charity Commission guidance on social media

The Charity Commission has published its first-ever guidance on charities’ use of social media, which sets out how trustees should manage the risks and benefits of social media, including through creating and embedding a robust social media policy. The final guidance addresses many of the concerns which CGIUKI and others raised in responses to the Commission’s consultation on the draft guidance.

 The new guidance aims to help trustees understand how their existing legal duties apply to their charity’s use of social media, and covers:

  • why a social media policy is important
  • a checklist covering what to include in a social media policy
  • how to manage risks, particularly when posting content about emotive topics
  • how to handle posts from individuals associated with the charity which might pose reputational risks, including where these are on their personal accounts
  • charities’ ability to campaign and to fundraise on social media.

CGIUKI welcomes the new guidance, which will support charities in confidently and effectively using social media, whilst managing any reputational risk. Several recent high-profile cases, where both charitable organisations and individuals have come under fire for their social media content, only emphasise how timely and necessary this guidance is.

The Commission’s consultation on the initial draft of the guidance was met with some concern from the sector, as reflected in their summary of consultation feedback. In our response, we highlighted that the draft guidance could be interpreted as overly impinging on individuals’ rights to express themselves, and also placed too great a burden on trustees for the oversight of organisations’ – and even individuals’ – social media accounts. We are very pleased to see that the Commission has addressed these concerns and has given much more clarity about rights and responsibilities, particularly through including the statement that trustees are not expected to monitor individuals’ social media accounts.

Additionally, we stressed that terms such as ‘contentious’ or ‘problematic’ were vague and subjective, and fully support the Commission’s decision to replace these with ‘emotive topics’, which is in alignment with CC9, the Commission’s guidance on campaigning and political activity. More broadly, the final guidance better recognises the benefits of social media use for charities, which we felt was important. It confirms charities’ ability to engage online about wider issues, regardless of whether these relate solely to their charitable purposes.

At a roundtable hosted by the Commission in advance of the guidance’s publication, we were reassured by the Commission’s intention behind this guidance, which fundamentally is to equip trustees better to understand and manage social media and its risks. In particular, their receptiveness to the feedback received during the consultation was impressive, and the changes made to the guidance are thorough.

There is no doubt that this is a fast-moving and complex subject, and one which can get charities into hot water. Orlando Fraser, the Chair of the Commission, discusses this further in his recent interview with the Guardian. He emphasises that charities have a right to campaign on contentious or emotive issues, but that the sector should hold itself to high standards and show ‘respect and tolerance’ in its communications. In a polarised online environment, and particularly in the lead up to a general election next year, we hope that this guidance will give charities the tools they need to make the best decisions for their charity.

Emily Ford, Policy Adviser

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