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SEC Social Media Guidance – Tread Carefully

Posted in SEC News

As discussed in a post on April 2, 2013, the SEC issued a report on that date that contained guidance on the use of social media to publicly disclose material information under Regulation FD.

The report centered on the SEC investigation of Netflix and Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings, and whether Regulation FD was violated when Mr. Hastings disclosed on his Facebook page favorable news about the number of hours that Netflix streamed in a month. The SEC decided not to bring enforcement action against Netflix or Mr. Hastings, making recognition that there has been market uncertainty about the application of Regulation FD to social media.

Regulation FD provides that a public company, or anyone acting on its behalf, may not disclose material, nonpublic information to market professionals or securityholders when it is reasonably foreseeable that someone may trade on the basis of the information, unless such information is simultaneously disclosed to the public in a method reasonably designed to provide broad, non-exclusionary distribution of information to the public.

It is important to remember that whether disclosures comply with Regulation FD must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. The SEC stated in the report that the disclosure of material nonpublic information on the personal social media site of a corporate officer, without advance notice to investors that the site may be used for this purpose, is unlikely to satisfy Regulation FD. The SEC explained that this is true regardless of the number of subscribers. The report focused on the fact that a company must notify the market about which forms of communication, including the social media channels, it intends to use for the dissemination of material nonpublic information.

The SEC expects issuers to rigorously examine the factors outlined in its 2008 website guidance that are taken into account when determining whether a particular channel is a recognized channel of distribution for communicating with investors. A company should ask itself several questions. Is the proposed channel of distribution one that is practical for investors to monitor? Do investors need “lead time” to register to use the channel of distribution? Is the company comfortable using only that channel of distribution for communications to investors? In any event, the company must be confident that the channel of distribution will provide for broad, non-exclusionary distribution of information to the public and it must provide adequate advance notice of the use of such channel to its investors. As best practices continue to evolve, companies should strongly consider continuing to use press releases, conference calls, and current reports on Form 8-K in addition to any social media channels to distribute material nonpublic information.

One Response to SEC Social Media Guidance – Tread Carefully

Patrick Smyth says: April 5, 2013 at 1:10 pm

Great points made here. This ruling really covers executives who might tweet or FB material items without considering the impact needed in most cases by a simple PR.