Ethics in Practice: Comment on Facebook Your Responsibility?

Category: Ethics

Country or region: Asia Pacific (Overall)

Summary:
If the headline above sparked your interest, you are one of the thousands of honest, ethical, and well-meaning investment professionals who want to do the right thing when it comes to fulfilling your professional responsibilities. But sometimes the proper course of action is not always straightforward and obvious. To help with those situations, CFA Institute provides guidance through its Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Conduct (Code and Standards) as well as an Ethical Decision-Making Framework. But just as you need to practice to become proficient at playing a musical instrument, public speaking, or playing a sport, practicing assessing and analyzing situations and making ethical decisions develops your ethical decision-making skills. To promote “ethical exercise,” we are excited to introduce Ethics in Practice.
Each week, we will post a short vignette, drawn from real-world circumstances, regulatory cases, and CFA Institute Professional Conduct investigations, along with possible responses/actions (see below). Later in the week, we will post an analysis of the case and you can see how your response compares! Stay tuned!

We then encourage you to assess the case through the lens of the Ethical Decision-Making Framework and the Code and Standards and let us know which of the choices you believe is the right thing to do and why by using the comment field below.

CASE (Week 30)


Wieters runs an investment advisory firm that specializes in equity only asset management. For clients and prospective clients seeking to follow a balanced or fixed-income strategy, Wieters posts on her firm’s Facebook page the names of a number of firms that she is familiar with that provide these services. One of the firms replies in the comment section of the post, providing basic performance history information and claiming compliance with the GIPS® standards. Unknown to Wieters, the performance history is misleading and the claim of compliance with the GIPS standards is inaccurate. Has Wieters violated the CFA Institute Code and Standards?

A. Yes because Wieters must exercise diligence and have a reasonable and adequate basis for every statement made on her firm’s Facebook page.
B. No as long as Wieters does not receive referral fees from the adviser for including the adviser’s information in the original post.
C. Yes if Wieters “likes” the post by the adviser containing the erroneous information.
D. No because Wieters is not responsible for any information posted by third parties in the comment sections of her firm’s Facebook page. 

ANALYSIS
This case involves CFA Institute Standard I(C): Misrepresentation, which states that CFA Institute members and candidates must not knowingly make any misrepresentation relating to investment analysis, recommendations, or actions. Wieters has the responsibility under Standard I(C) to make sure that any professional communications she puts out are not misleading, whether or not the statements are verbal, written, or posted on social media. In this case, although the misleading statements are posted on the social media platform that Wieters controls, the misleading statement is clearly made by someone else because it is in a comment written by another person.
Therefore, Wieters may not be considered responsible under the CFA Institute Code and Standards for verifying the truthfulness of others information. In providing a list of potential service providers for a style of investment she does not provide, it is not clear whether she is recommending the services of those firms in her post. A recommendation of services would be a step that moves Wieters closer to endorsing the misleading information rather than passively allowing comments by others on her social media account. The payment of referral fees (or no payment of referral fees) is not relevant to the misrepresentation issue. Wieters would be in danger of violating the Code and Standards if she knows the adviser’s information to be false and allows it to remain on her Facebook page. It is, therefore, not the case that Wieters is never responsible of any information posted by another person on her page. (In this scenario, the facts are clear that she does not know that the performance history and claim of compliance with the GIPS standards are false.)
Answer C is actually the best answer because if Wieters “likes” the adviser’s comment or responds in another way that indicates she explicitly or implicitly endorses, adopts, or approves the content of the comment, that would effectively be a communication made by Wieters. She would then become responsible for the content. By “liking” the adviser’s misleading performance information, Wieters becomes the author of a separate and distinct communication that includes misleading statements. To be safe, best practice would be for Wieters to remove from her Facebook page any potentially problematic or unverified statements or comments made by others until she can determine the veracity of those statements.
 

Have an idea for a case for us to feature? Send it to us at ethicscases@cfainstitute.org
 


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