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Social media: a charity’s friend or foe?

Posted: 19/12/2023

Charities are often by their very nature involved in highly emotive issues – whether this is aid in a humanitarian crisis, assisting a vulnerable group, or promoting views which others may perceive as controversial.

Used well, social media can be a fantastic resource for getting the charity’s message out quickly and punchily – but unwise social media posts can damage an organisation’s work and reputation. Many of us will have been guilty of having itchy fingers ready with a pithy riposte when reading something that engages or enrages us – but charities cannot afford to have detrimental, potentially unlawful, material attached to their name.

The Charity Commission has recently published guidance for trustees on charities and social media, and its social media manager has blogged on the subject.

Both documents contain detailed guidance and commentary, and are a recommended read – what follows is a brief summary.

In short, charity trustees are responsible for the following:

  • putting in place a social media policy with internal controls that are appropriate and proportionate for the charity’s needs, and which are clear to everyone at the charity using social media: this may include how to engage with members of the public (for example, whether comments are permitted and/or moderated).
  • ensuring the social media policy is regularly reviewed: is it fit for purpose?
  • ensuring the charity’s social media use helps to achieve its purpose in a way that is in its best interests: delivering the charity’s stated purpose is paramount and should always be borne in mind when social media posts are made.
  • complying with relevant laws. For example, in relation to the Equality Act: could a post amount to harassment or discrimination? Could it be construed as defamatory? Is it compliant with GDPR? Is the charity complying with fundraising rules?
  • making sure any campaigning or political activity complies with the relevant rules – remember, charities can take part in political activity that supports their purpose and is in their best interests, but they must remain independent and must not give their support to a political party. Does the charity’s social media profile reflect that balance?
  • implementing processes that help keep people safe online, including any extra considerations when dealing with vulnerable users.

A charity’s social media policy should of course include all the safeguards, checks and balances that other organisations routinely employ. A particular risk for charities may be ‘bad actors’ creating fake accounts on social media, which can be damaging to reputation or cause financial losses – be aware of how to spot and stop this happening.

The guidance on social media for charities is just one of a number of guidance notes published and kept regularly updated by the Charity Commission. It has also recently published a trustee quiz: why not have a go at this? Hopefully you will get 10/10 – but if not, consider whether there are areas where your knowledge needs refreshing.

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