Social media accountability is a two way street

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.


feeble fable2
Creative Commons License photo credit: ex animø

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?

  • What this highlights for me is the point it's not really about open or closed communications per se, but about having 'blatant integrity'.

    The social web is a great opportunity for us to up our game about social behaviour, digital footprints are plainer to see and they ask us to walk well. So accountability, yes – when the integrity of any position can be defended we're in a much better position to build the trust that the hyperconnectivity of the social web so badly needs.

  • Anonymity has a positive side. Two cases I've been involved in this year are (1) How US companies can operate Sarbanes-Oxley rules on protection for whistleblowers in their European subsidiaries and (2) how a fetish club can prove that people attending events don't have criminal convictions without forcing them to reveal their names and addresses. The general principle is that my identity belongs to me, and you can only force me to disclose what you need to know.

    If a blogger wants to be anonymous, we can't check their facts, and that might mean we trust them less. But there was a case of a blogger called 'Nightjack' in the UK, who was a senior policeman, blogging anonymously until a newspaper revealed his name, and a lot of people felt that the anonymous blog was valuable and should have stayed that way.

    In the Liskula Cohen case, the blogger called her psychotic, lying and whoring, and I think Cohen has a right to sue the blogger for defamation. I'm not sure that I, or anyone else, have a right to know the blogger's name.

  • Great post. I think that when you think no one thinks you can be found out, they will say anything. Samuel Jckson was talking about how he messages the anon. bloggers talking down all his movies – he asks to meet them and says here's my number if yo dont believe its really me. And none of them ever reply.

  • I really like the term & the idea of 'blatant integrity' – agree that the tracing of our behaviours and digital footprint means we should be considerate to others and not be a cowardly bully hiding behind anonymity.

  • i appreciate the photo credit. great post!

  • Mal,
    I agree that unless you are prepared to back up your opinion with the opportunity for someone to come straight back at you, you are pretty much whistling dixie.
    There are definitely examples in history where anonymity has been crucial to grave injustices being unearthed, but I would not hesitate to say that in the on-line world, these are few and far between.
    Eatability is a great example, you can criticize to your hearts content and your review effects the overall result, but you are not a professional food reviewer. #simonthomsen will review a restaurant 2,3 or even 4 times to ensure he has consistency in his “opinions” before he publishes in the Herald.
    I would be interested to know how many “anonymous” contributors would say the same thing if their opinion (not life and death stuff) were going to be published with their name and their qualifying capabilities attached to the article and published with a large readership.
    Justin Browne, 0416038038, signing off!

  • KRohanSassySEO

    Another great post, Tip! You are a perfect person to write this as I consider you very authentic & genuine.

    I appreciate that you present both sides of this issue – especially mentioning that if corporations are expected be transparent & held accountable – so should individuals.

    You always make me think about & consider things a little differently. Thanks!

    Kristin Rohan

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  • I think we must set some rules for ourselves in using social media.. Social media really done a great impact in our life and I think using this abusively is wrong.

  • Right. And the best way to make the best of both worlds is having not relying on a single platform alone, otherwise you might bury yourself in debt.

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