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SEC gives companies OK to use social media

Investors must get notice of sites

WASHINGTON – The Securities and Exchange Commission will allow public companies to make significant announcements on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites provided they alert investors which sites they intend to use.

The decision announced Tuesday allows companies to use social media in place of more formal websites.

The question arose after Netflix Inc. CEO Reed Hastings said on his Facebook page in July that subscribers together watched more than 1 billion hours of video for the first time during June, the agency said.

An SEC rule requires that all investors receive significant company information at the same time. By allowing businesses to use more informal channels to share news with investors, the SEC is acknowledging the shift in technology that has made social media indispensable for the largest and most powerful corporations.

One key requirement is that companies alert investors in press releases or regulatory filings as to where they plan to disseminate information that could potentially affect the price of the company’s stock.

Neither Hastings nor Netflix had previously used Facebook to announce company information and they hadn’t notified investors that Facebook might be used for that purpose, the SEC said Tuesday. The agency’s enforcement division opened an inquiry but took no action against Hastings or Netflix nor alleged any wrongdoing.

Rather, the SEC decided to issue the guidance for all companies, saying they should take care to disseminate information through social media in a way that all people will have access to it.

Netflix said in a statement Tuesday, “We appreciate the SEC’s careful consideration and resolution of this matter.”