Charity Commission aims to clarify murky pool of social media for trustees

Learn more about the Charity Commission's new Trustee guide for social media.

Trustees, do you need help navigating social media? Do you need clearer guidelines from the Charity Commission to help you compose a social media policy and avoid risk to your charity online? Well, they’ve recently published trustee guidance for using social media, and although it’s only currently a draft, they want to know what you think.

It’s important that trustees find this guidance helpful rather than yet another regulatory burden, or worse, something that puts them off from making public statements or using social media altogether. The Commission argues this is a problem area for trustees, but charities need to make sure that any guidance is clear, concise and constructive.

According to the Commission, the guidance offers no new information for trustees, it just sets out how existing trustee duties are relevant to a charity’s use of social media. For example, it refers to related guidance on political campaigning and elections, and on safeguarding.

The crux of the guidance is that charities should have a social media policy, and the related points have the potential to help trustees navigate the murky pool of social media. But some commentators have argued that it’s highly problematic, especially when it comes to individuals’ social media accounts.

The draft guidance says that “trustees, employees or volunteers are free to post or share personal content and viewpoints on their own social media accounts”, however, it adds that “there are risks that an individual’s posts are interpreted as reflecting those of a charity”. But regulating personal accounts could be incredibly hard, especially in cases where individuals are linked to multiple charities. Could this encroach on the lives of trustees, staff members and volunteers and their freedom to express their views on social media?

Some big questions in the draft guidance seem left open to interpretation. If the trustee board is doing the interpretation by setting and using a social media policy that’s one thing – but what if it’s the Commission? In a media environment influenced by a hostile press or a politician with an axe to grind?

Maybe some guidance is better than nothing, and at least gives trustees something to work with. Some will argue that the guidance needs more examples and explanation, while others will say the topic is so complex that leaving it broad and top-level is the only way to do it.

The issue with social media is that it’s constantly changing and evolving every day, so any guidance will have to do the same. While trustees and charities probably do need some sensible guidance about social media, they definitely don’t need further rules that could be used to silence their legitimate voices.

Read the full draft guide here to gain a better understanding of the guidance and what it sets out to do, and please let the Charity Commission know what you think! But do it before Tuesday 14 March, by making your views heard here.