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Social media misconduct: ICAEW revises guidelines

ICAEW updated its duty to report misconduct guidance to include social media use to reinforce the message that being professional extends beyond the office walls.

22nd Oct 2020
Community Assistant AccountingWEB
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As part of their professional obligation to protect the public interest, ICAEW members have a duty to report “any act or default, whether in the course of carrying out professional work or otherwise, likely to bring discredit on the member, the profession of accountancy or ICAEW”.

However, they are not required to report minor faults of other members or firms, or suspected issues that are not supported by evidence.

The underlying principles remain the same in the new guidance, but social media misbehaviour has been added as a new example of misconduct that should be reported to the institute. The updated document also offers more information on what should be reported and when, along with other issues to considere such as client confidentiality, and how to ask for assistance if you need it.

An appendix explains that social media transgressions can include making and publishing racist, homophobic or other offensive comments, or sharing offensive material. But it draws the line at situations where the member has made a point forcefully in a heated debate without making any offensive comments.

The anonymity of online platforms has spawned a new generation of keyboard crusaders and they're not going away. The internet has created an environment that can sometimes conceal hateful and aggressive behaviour behind a virtual wall. 

People who have experienced this kind of behaviour often bear the mental scars for a long time afterwards.

Virtual vilification

The profession’s reputation has suffered from digital defamation in several fronts in recent years. In 2018, the ACCA disciplinary tribunal heard the case of Maple Accountancy director Stephen Baker, who was accused of posting derogatory comments online.

Over the course of six years, Baker was found to have posted homophobic, racist and sexist remarks on his Facebook page.

The abhorrent way he described certain groups of people in these posts drew a severe reprimand. He agreed to attend an equality, diversity and discrimination course to learn how to be respectful in screen interactions and real life.

Baker was also accused of breaching client confidentiality after he published details of a client’s health online.

Although his lawyer argued that he did not identify the client directly, the tribunal found he had broken the principle of professional confidentiality.

Conflict in the community

Members of the AccountingWEB community have also been subject to online harassment.

“I know it is lies, but it is also visible to anyone,” said member Murphy1 after an ex-staffer publicly slated them on social media. “As an employer we cannot post facts about ex-employees.”

The situation left them feeling mentally and physically “sick” with worry as the rate-your-employer site refused to take the posts down.

A few other members simply told the poster to ignore it, suggesting this was unfortunately the reality of today’s cybernated culture. Other members strongly advised Murphy1 to seek legal help, citing the 2013 Defamation Act. While forum operators are rarely liable for defamatory comments, they can be required to take action by the courts. 

“The damage social postings can inflict should be taken seriously,” said reader Franfx.

Another reader pointed out that UK recruiters routinely check out people’s social media platforms when hiring for jobs, so “karma is likely”.

Replies (4)

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Mark Lee 2017
By Mark Lee
27th Oct 2020 10:05

Fortunately AccountingWeb has always been good at distinguishing the hateful from the robust argument. But whenever anonymity is permitted we risk keyboard warriors posting stuff they wouldn't dare say if their identity was known.

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By mkowl
27th Oct 2020 10:54

As a Sheffield Wednesday fan can I claim exemption on the grounds of 20 years of misery drives you to it

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Replying to mkowl:
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By mrshamilton
28th Oct 2020 13:36

I hear you! Also an MK Owl

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All Paul Accountants in Leeds
By paulinleeds
27th Oct 2020 11:36

I really do think that the professional bodies need to get into the real world and start representing their members' real interests rather than some fictitious world of perfection.

I do not agreed with racist and homophobic comments etc and the silly things that people say and do at times.

However, would I really feel the need to, or should fellow member have to, report them to their professional body for some minor misdemeanour.

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