Social media – who can you trust?

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP

False advertising on social media has been a problem since companies first harnessed its power as a sales tool. One of the earliest examples was the apparently independent blog ‘Wal-Marting Across America’, on which a couple wrote about their positive experiences of the chain as they travelled across the United States in 2006.

The exposure appeared too good to be true, which in fact it was –. ‘BusinessWeek’ subsequently revealed that the couple had received financial and logistical support from Wal-Mart through an interest group set up by its PR firm. Once the scheme was exposed, Wal-Mart pulled the plug and the PR adviser was forced to apologise.

Despite the potential for embarrassment, businesses continue to sail close to the wind. In the UK, the Advertising Standards Authority recently ruled against Nike for failing to inform consumers that tweets from footballers Jack Wilshere and Wayne Rooney were, in fact, marketing communications,; while hair salon Toni & Guy was censured after a TV celebrity’s postings were found to breach the watchdog’s code.

In China, too, the brand manager of infant formula company Meng Niu and employees of a Beijing internet PR consultancy were arrested in 2010 for allegedly making false posts that defamed the safety of rival Yili’s QQ Star Children’s Milk.

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