Wednesday, February 1, 2012
it’s a jungle out there
As everyone leaps with enthusiasm onto social networking platforms - well, perhaps not everyone! - it is good to pause for a moment and consider some of the pitfalls of the changing dynamic. With blogs that allow comments, Facebook pages that encourage comments, and Twitter, which is one huge round of chatter, it is important to state the obvious: ANYONE can join your conversation.
With a blog you have (or should have) the ability to moderate comments - that is, to check them before they appear. Always enable this feature, so that you can prevent spam and malicious comments. But don’t use it to stifle lively discussion, or readers soon won’t want to talk with you.
The well-known website TripAdvisor is a platform for travellers to post reviews of accommodation businesses. It was reported recently that the site has been rapped on the knuckles by the UK advertising watchdog for using phrases such as “reviews you can trust”, when in fact there is a risk of fraudulent posts (despite TripAdvisor’s efforts to prevent it). Even discounting outright fraud, a disgruntled patron, whether they are in the right or not, can potentially threaten a small business. Here's a story like that: a small B&B has to battle what it claims are slanderous comments by one disgruntled former guest. Whatever the rights and wrongs of individual cases - beware. TripAdvisor has a facility for proprietors to publicly answer any negative (or positive) comments - use it judiciously. But even that may not protect you against a malicious person.
The ordinary folk who post their comments all over the internet - as invited - often have no conception of the havoc they can wreak, of the potential power in their hands. The general consensus is against censoring the internet - witness the (rather unthinking) backlash against Twitter for trying to comply with specific country laws. After all, the freedom of the internet has opened so many doors and empowered so many people. But like copyright infringement, slander is still illegal. It’s just that both are more or less impossible to enforce if you are a micro-business and the perpetrator is sitting at their computer in a foreign land.
But what about the lovely concept of “community”? The internet has enabled many like-minded folk to congregate in conversation, and business. The wonderful site for indie craftspeople, etsy, would be a safe haven for small creators, you’d think. But small creators are plagued by copyright rip-offs of their designs. Etsy will take down the sites of sellers who are proven to engage in this nefarious practice deliberately. Most indie craftspeople are very careful indeed about their work, and place a high value on originality.
But what if the worst happens and an item you use contains an image which is not in the public domain, and - horrors! - you’ve stepped on another artist’s rights? Of course you take the image down right away, apologise if there’s been a complaint. Your indie community will understand, surely. Not necessarily: the internet is a wide open forum, and not everyone who posts does so with thought. You can more likely expect a savaging and a threat to the good name of your micro-business. The lesson? Even in the close-knit indie world, don’t expect “the community” to worry too much about the damage they can wreak.
It’s everyone for themselves in the jungle.
Oh, and for another side to this cautionary tale, there was news this week of two young English people blacklisted from entering the USA, where they were bound on holiday, because the content of a couple of (they thought innocent) Twitter posts which offended strict US sensibilities about potential troublemakers.
Think before you tweet.