The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) has issued advice to its member clubs not to use WhatsApp, in concern about what material is shared, often in error, and how it is controlled. Group chats are often a very useful way of getting out news and arrangements for teams and clubs to the players, their parents and club members. However the ease of access to the chats, the ease of adding material and the potential for errors, makes this a potential banana skin for those who operate the chat.
They have concerns that WhatsApp may not be compliant with the duties on clubs or organisations under GDPR but have also raised concerns that “unsuitable material” can, and has been, shared. The GAA take their responsibilities over child safety seriously and this step reflects the concerns that the controller of the WhatsApp Group (but clearly other group messaging arrangements will have similar issues) cannot control what group participants put into the group chats. They already have a GDPR compliant system which allows for multi-channel communication. This may form the base for another communication app which can replace the ease of WhatsApp group chats.
When an organisation has so many members and a significant youth and child membership such concerns are well founded. When you add the “locker room” environment of the sports arena the risks can be significant.
Users of group chats will have seen friends and colleagues put messages, videos, pictures or memes into the wrong group in error. If that entry is age inappropriate then concerns will arise as to the impact on other group chat members and the responsibilities of the group administrator.
We have reflected on the risks to employers (and in this case sports organisations and their clubs and members) of mis-use of social media and the GAA seem to have acted swiftly on this issue. This step follows quickly on the UK Information Commissioner addressing safety rules in internet enabled devices and social media platforms and seeks to minimise the risks to young people from inappropriate material and improper use of data in the systems they access.
The potential for future claims against sports groups, youth organisations and employers for insulting and bullying behaviour through social media, or for the abuse of adults or children using the communications and social media of the organisations, remains a very real risk. It is likely other sports groups, youth organisations and even large employers will monitor the GAA position carefully and may follow suit.
Fintan Canavan, Partner, BLM