An interesting statement of inquiry results has been published this week by the Charity Commission relating to the Ghulam Mustafa Trust and an order it has made under section 181A of the Charities Act 2011 to disqualify a trustee from trusteeship and senior management functions.
Whilst there are a number of issues identified in the Commission's statement, the order disqualifying the trustee relates primarily to the trustee concerned having abused his position to spread offensive social media messages via the charity's Facebook page.
The reported facts leave no doubt as to the appropriateness of the steps taken by the Charity Commission and the inappropriate and offensive material posted by the trustee on Facebook.
The case does however raise questions as to the Commission's approach to trustees' use of social media in respect of regulatory issues.
In this case, the charity's own Facebook page was used by a trustee to spread offensive messages in a manner that clearly demonstrates misconduct, but what approach would the Commission take to a trustee using a personal account? Would it make a difference if that account was "locked" or open to anyone who wished to see it? What if there was no stated link to the charity save for the publicly available knowledge that the "Tweeter" or "Facebooker" was a trustee of a charity?
Since the introduction of the Commission's new regulatory powers, we have used the example of social media when discussing factors that the Commission may take into account when exercising their new powers to disqualify trustees.
I think this serves as a good reminder that charity trustees need to think twice before posting certain categories of material on social media. A tweet or Facebook post may not be offensive but a post expressing a controversial or particularly strong political view may come back to haunt you.
This is a subject we will address in seminars (currently being organised) later this year but if you are a charity trustee and have any questions as to your personal use of social media and its possible impact on your trustee role(s), please do not hesitate to get in touch - you can of course tweet us (in appropriate terms!) on @BrabnersCharity or @GHughesBrabners.
During the visit, the Commission established that one of the trustees, Mr Ghulam Mustafa (‘Trustee A’) was responsible for creating, featuring in and posting of the video. It was also confirmed that the Charity did not have a social media policy or any rules governing who could post messages on the Charity’s social media pages. The Commission also identified other posts on the Charity’s Facebook page which were offensive or derogatory about Jewish people.