When the Advertising Standards Board (ASB) ruled last month that comments on a vodka brand’s Facebook page were ads, it sparked a potential conflict with the ‘do not delete’ mantra espoused by PRs for social media.

With that ruling – that fan comments are ads and therefore must adhere to the Board’s codes – brands could be forced to strictly police comments made by fans on their brand pages.

Media lawyer John Swinson, of law firm King and Wood Mellesons, told Fairfax papers that he has advised clients to be aware that the same standards governing traditional advertising media could now apply to posts by any party on a brand’s Facebook pages.

Members of the public posting claims referring to Smirnoff being the ‘purest Russian vodka’, for example, could lead to the brand ending up in court for false or misleading advertising.

“Smirnoff is Australian not Russian. So that is false. It may not be the purest so that could also be misleading,” says Swinson.

The original claim against Smirnoff was dismissed, but the ASB ruled that posts by brands and the user comments that followed were governed by the industry self-regulatory body’s codes. The ruling effectively “turned people’s opinions into statement of facts,” Swinson says.

This presents a challenge to brands that increasingly rely on Facebook ‘word-of-mouth’ to disseminate referrals to their fans’ social circles, forcing them to review and possibly delete thousands of user comments a day.