If comments are “advertisements,” should we just go back to chatting?

Not to be overly dramatic, but the conversation may be the heart of social media, its very lifeblood.

Anyone who has ever launched a Facebook page, blog, Twitter handle or Pinterest board knows that what they really seek is engagement, a dynamic involvement by readers and other posters.

To social media, the comment is a nutritional daily requirement.

But what if that comment were both sustenance and a poison pill that could undermine your entire site?

Lawyers who have created their own websites or Facebook pages should be interested in the evolution of the following important question: Are comments “advertisements”?

A ruling by an advertising standards board—in Australia—ruled that the two are essentially equivalent, at least on Facebook pages of companies that sell products.

Here is how a recent article on the topic opened:

“A ruling that Facebook is an advertising medium—and not just a way to communicate—will force companies to vet comments posted by the public to ensure they are not sexist, racist or factually inaccurate.

“In a move that could change the nature of the social networking site forever, companies could be fined or publicly shamed for the comments that appear on their Facebook ‘brand’ pages.

“Last month the advertising industry watchdog issued a judgment in which it said comments made by ‘’fans’’ of a vodka brand’s Facebook page were ads and must therefore comply with industry self-regulatory codes, and therefore consumer protection laws.”

Read the whole thing here.

A few factors suggest to me that lawyers need not be too concerned about this quite yet.

First, there’s been no such ruling stateside, so this may be an outlier.

Second, the reasoning underlying this ruling applies to products. There may be such a thing as legal products, but a law firm Facebook page is more along the lines of communicating its services, a different thing entirely.

Third, we already know that posts and comments may cause legal problems, and so we look out for that.

Finally, most firms get substantially fewer comments from readers than, say, Target or (ha!) Chick-fil-A. The process of reviewing recent posts for appropriateness likely doesn’t take very long.

But all of us who enjoy that give-and-take with readers should be aware that comments may take on even more legal significance in the future. Keep those comments coming—at least as long as they’re not advertisements.