The People’s Court – Social Media’s Role in Business Accountability

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The People’s Court – Social Media’s Role in Business Accountability

Countless research reports have said the same thing about business accountability; people want transparency and they want to see it online where they interact. The problem is that accountability and the ‘right thing’ can often be at odds with one another. Ultimately, setting businesses up to make a lesser of two evils decision. For example, sustainable measured and technology advancement is better for the earth. But will mean that more people are out of a job, with outcry following despite consumers demanding a greener solution.

On a smaller more local level, businesses are finding that social media is truly a people’s court. And that abiding by law and conduct is not as attractive as doing what their customers and stakeholders expect. Let’s take a look at how businesses perform; when their employees threaten sponsorships and when sponsors threaten the advocacy of their audience.

When employee behaviour threatens sponsorship

The battle between Israel Folau and Rugby Australia was a position no business wants to find themselves in. It started with Folau posting a number of homophobic posts to his Instagram, which caused an enormous public outcry, prompting Qantas to infer that they would pull out as sponsors if he was not fired from Australian Rugby. The conduct shown by Folau was poor form, but it’s suggested by lawyer Alan McDonald, that, while Rugby Australia may have acted as if they were protecting the public and making an example of Folau, they could actually be liable through the eyes of the law. 

This case was uniquely complicated, as social media sparked the issue in the first place with the posting by Folau, and it was ultimately his demise with the outcry that played out on these platforms and demanded an outcome from Rugby Australia. The case was later settled, with Folau pleased with the financial settlement received. It begs the question; what would have happened had this situation happened in a vacuum with the law followed and Qantas’ not threatening sponsorship? Certainly, online law is unchartered territories for many businesses, which is why law firms like McDonald Murholme exist to navigate the rights of an employee and safeguard employers from acting unlawfully.

When sponsor behaviour threatens the audience advocacy

Stop us if this sounds familiar and a parallel to Folau’s situation. Recently Isabel Lucas was stripped of her ambassadorship with Plan International after she posted a regretful (although ambiguous) comment about how mandatory vaccinations shouldn’t necessarily be explored when the topic of flu vaccinations came up surrounding COVID-19. This statement was immediately viewed under the lens of an anti-vax viewpoint. Which Lucas has stated was not her intent or what she was indicating. Plan International, which is a humanitarian organisation advocating for girls rights, made their swift decision to part ways with Lucas. For fear of diluting their own mission or not wanting to be known as anti-vax supporters.

But where does this leave Lucas? It’s hard to imagine that the same outcome would have transpired if Lucas supported mandatory flu vaccinations. It definitely sends a message that businesses don’t want to entertain controversial themes. Celebrities are not exempt from scrutiny if their audience is the trade-off. 

Businesses are right to believe they can’t win. When they have to contend with the law while also ensuring they are cultivating an ethical, safe environment without hate. It’s a responsibility of a business to ensure that their social media platforms are free of bullying and discrimination. Also free from any unethical or unsafe practice viewpoints. Negative commentary can spread like wildfire on social media. Businesses should be aware of how people’s court plays out on social media; and the harm that this alienation of a person or group can cause.

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