The Charity Commission published its draft Guidance on ‘Charities and Social Media’ on 17 January 2023. Draft guidance: charities and social media - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk). The consultation period closed on 14 March 2023 and the Commission are in the process of considering these responses before publishing their final Guidance.
The publication of the draft Guidance led to extensive debate in the sector, with concerns being expressed in particular that the draft Guidance:
- does not refer sufficiently to the potential benefits to a charity of using social media as a means of reaching a wider audience.
- suggests that trustees must exercise oversight over the personal social media accounts of employees and volunteers.
- could make charities risk-averse to using social media and thereby adversely affect campaigning by charities.
In a speech to Acevo’s festival of leadership on 22 March 2023, Orlando Fraser, the Chair of the Charity Commission, defended the Charity Commission’s draft Guidance, stating that “it is designed to support charities to use social media with confidence, to ensure trustees understand their responsibilities, and remain risk aware.” Orlando Fraser KC's speech at #ACEVOFest - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
Many charities do not have a social media policy and the publication of the Guidance has served to highlight the need for trustees to put such a policy in place. There is much in the draft Guidance that is helpful. For example, it sets out the need to include in the policy:
- Which platforms the charity uses and the controls regarding who uses social media on the charity’s behalf.
- Who at the charity is responsible for reviewing and moderating content, especially where discussion forums are used.
- Procedures for responding to incidents.
However, there are improvements that need to be made to the Guidance if it is a be a helpful tool for trustees. In particular:
- To expand the section of the Guidance regarding the personal social media accounts of trustees, employees and volunteers to make it clear that trustees do not have a duty to oversee personal accounts.
- To include more detail/examples regarding how charities could engage with staff and volunteers to reduce the risk of personal views being seen as those of the charity.
- To highlight more clearly the benefits to be gained through charities using social media, as well as the risks.
- To include case studies, as the have done in some of their other Guidance, to help trustees understand their duties and avoid possible pitfalls.