Accountability has been a big by-product of social media going mainstream. Companies are now being held accountable for bad behaviour, shonky customer service and dubious ethics by the blogosphere, and by the visibility and search-ability of social conversations across social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and Friendfeed. The old, impenetrable castle walls of faceless, anonymous corporate brands are in the process of being dismantled by the dispersed people power of social networks. The PR spin doctors can no longer control the message.
On the whole, social media has built a culture of authenticity, transparency and trust. So what happens when anonymous bad behaviour is demonstrated by the blogosphere? Former Vogue Australia cover model Liskula Cohen was called a “skank” (and disparaged for her age) by a blog in NYC focused entirely on her, and as the blog was hosted on Blogspot, Liskula sued Google to get the identity of blogger. Thanks to the judge agreeing the comments were defamatory, Google has now been ordered to reveal the identity of the blogger to enable Cohen to sue for defamation.
The issue of anonymity breeding negativity on the internet are well known. What’s interesting to me in this case is the language around the issue:
opening the floodgates for anyone to sue who’s had nasty comments posted about them online
the decision [to reveal the bloggers’ identity] will send a message the internet is not a free for all.
So which view is right?
- we want our brands and corporates to be transparent and be accountable, and we take them to task in our social channels if they don’t do the right thing
- anonymity for anyone, individuals or corporates is not generally conducive to good behaviour, although there are exceptions when it comes to confessionals
- the standards of complete honesty, transparency and accountability can be expected on social spaces from both companies and individuals
- blogs as a message channel have increased their overall authority, and they are just as/sometimes more relevant in search as regular news channels, so they should be held to the same standards of accountability.
- there’s constructive criticism and then there’s unnecessary vitriol. The blog posts in the Cohen case reflect a personal nastiness. Cohen herself was concerned that it may be someone she knew. Yes people can say whatever they want, but conversely they need to be able to stand behind what they say and take responsibility of what they put out there.
- litigation should be a last resort. But precedents are useful for drawing a line in the sand. So if bloggers know they can’t hide behind anonymity will they think twice before posting unnecessarily awful things?
What do you think? Can bloggers get away with saying whatever they want? Or should they be held accountable for what they put out there and not hide behind a veil of anonymity?