Monday, 13 August 2012

Hey you commenters; you better behave yourselves !

I am now in some serious trouble. It appears, I am responsible for all the stuff you lot comment on my blog. If anything you write is untrue or misleading, it looks like I will go to jail. Good Lord!

As usual, this blogger is guilty of hyperbole. But, as has been repeatedly stated, any prose, sans some journalistic license, is a sure cure for insomnia. So with some hyperbole, I am musing about Diageo's Facebook page, that has got into trouble with the Australian authorities.

If you don't know Diageo, it is the company that makes Guinness, Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff, Baileys etc. Because their Board has been told that they must be "in" to social media, they have a Facebook page for their brands such as Smirnoff. The site encourages reader comments, opinions, etc, which you would expect to be a fairly harmless thing to do. Now anybody, who knows anything about social media, know that the vast majority of comments on anything (notable exception, this blog) will be vulgar, absurd, defamatory, etc etc. But any self respecting site would have some mechanism to keep spam and filth out, but would let most other comments stay, even if they were outrageous.

The Australian Standards Board has however ruled that Diageo must police  all reader comments on their site and that any comment by a reader would be treated as an advertising claim by Diageo and it would be liable if that were untrue, or misleading. Now anybody who has worked in a consumer products company knows that before any ad is released, lawyers pore over every statement made to ensure that they would not be sued later for wrong advertising. If the same standard were to be applied to reader comments, then essentially social media becomes off limits for advertisers. Forget having to delete obscene comments. If a reader posted a comment saying Smirnoff has 7.5% alcohol, instead of the actual 7%, Diageo will become responsible for misleading advertising !!

Right now, this is a problem confined to Australia. If other countries followed suit with a similar view, companies will have no option but to pull their sites out of interactive media. That would be a real shame, but the impact on social media sites would be disastrous. Imagine what will happen to Facebook revenues. If ad revenues did not come, social media itself cannot survive.

Before you say that the Australian decision is crazy and possibly issued by gray men who "don't get it",  think just a little more. Any reader can reasonably say that matters stated in a company's site can be interpreted to mean that it is comping from the company or that the company has approved it. After all it is possible for a clever company to structure a site such that its advertising is largely in the form of reader appreciation and response. Such appreciation and glowing reviews is what the company is aiming to get in the first place; isn't it. So there is some merit in what the Austraian Standards Board is saying, although their stance appears a bit excessive.

Laws on adveritising were framed way before even the internet came, let alone social media. They need some serious reconsideration and  global consensus.

Until then, I better be careful. After all, I do go once in a while to Australia and don't want to get arrested. Readers are therefore requested to only post completely truthful comments attesting to the fact that I am indisputably tall, dark and handsome !


gils said...

arasiyal vaazhkaila ithelaam saaatharanam thaana... prabalam naalay praablam thaan :D

J said...

Uh oh! In that case mum's the word :)

Asha said...

Baah! for a moment, when i saw your post title and those starting lines on my reader, i lost my heart beat.

Though i am not sure about Diageo case, but yes, it needs to be policed wherever unparliamentary lingo are used. Otherwise, people just use their choicest of abuses and show no restraint not just on FB but also on their blogposts. Recently, i read a blogpost where he wrote about people should not be onlookers and shoot in public whenever they see some untoward incident, in this case he was referring to the Guwahati molestation incident. These type of irresponsible blogposts and comments could be triggers for many irrational minds.

But Ramesh, will keep your closing lines in mind whenever i comment here :)

Prats said...

I missed this piece of news. It is really a shame, I don't understand why is it so difficult goverment & other agencies across the world to understand the social media.

Ramesh said...

@Gils - Thankfully I am not in arasiyal !!

@J- Naughty Naughty. Especially as I was just going to just extol what a stunning, gorgeous, person a certain distinguished academic is :)

@Asha - Its absolutely awful the way commenters write absolute filth , especially in news sites. By and large, blog posts and comments are very decent - its on public forums and news sites that we see much awfulness. Freedom of expressions is a very precious right but we should be careful not to ever misuse it.

@Prats - I know. Regulatory authorities have much difficulty with the internet itself; leave alone social media. One of the problems is that our entire system of jurisprudence is based on the concept of nation states which the internet has overturned completely.

sriram khe said...

As a tall, athletic, and stunningly good-looking guy myself, I will certainly attest to your good looks from what I remember of you from 35 years ago :)

The rapid changes in technology are rendering practically everything we have today as obsolete--including the regulatory framework governing business practices. Government rule-making on most of these will, by their very nature, be reactions to developments, which means the more rapid the development of technology the slower rulemaking will be, and very soon the gap becomes way too wide and farcical, which is what the situation you are describing seems to be. At some point, government might have to recognize this and leave it some kind of self-regulation.

But, all these provide for enough and more fun for us, right? :)

J said...

Hey Handsome!! So you were saying....? :)

On a less frivolous note, I occasionally read the comments on some news website but never get far because it is so scary to think that I live in the midst of all these people who can be so nasty and vicious when they are anonymous. I had a colleague who used to memorize the names and faces of his large MBA classes from the photo directory even before the first day of classes and call out the students by name on the very first day. He strongly believed that people will give you their best behavior when they know that they can be identified. Isn't that such a sad statement on all of us.

Ravi Rajagopalan said...

Take the British press. Probably the most independent journalistic fraternity there is. The British press we know of has always survived in an environment where libel has been punishable, where the government can issue a D-Notice and stop publication of a news item that is likely to harm the public interest, and where there is a Press Complaints Commission that can deal with complaints of biased reporting, scurrilage, etc. All this was possible because the medium was more or less controllable through the broadcast operators - newspapers, radio, tv, news portals. Social media has the ability to blur the distinction between a narrow-cast and a broadcast. As you say, there are no laws to deal with this. However, here is my attempt to apply good old principles of common law to this problem.

1) The operator of the social medium has the unfettered right to block publication of an item that it deems inimical to the public interest.

2) If the operator fails to do so, he can be liable to legal action under existing libel and other laws, should the offending material be deemed to have violated existing laws.

3) Should the operator permit publication but the item be deemed objectionable by a member of the public the operator is liable but will be able to offer mitigation based on a published editorial policy.

4) Before publication the writer must acknowledge he has read the editorial policy.

5) The writer must provide enough information to trace him and the operator must ensure he has enough information with which to trace the writer.

The internet is not an excuse for the unexpurgated outpourings of maniacs to vent their frustrations on a general public. The amount of crap I get forwarded to me by intelligent, sentient human beings is not funny at all.

My outline is a sensible policy. If you wish to make jokes about Ramesh's so called good looks, fine. If you wish to use this blog to make offensive comments about somebody's religious sentiments, thats upto Ramesh to remove but if he does not - he is liable. If Shell or some company encourages people to post misleading news items about their product or the competition, they are liable if they are found to be misleading the public.

We really need to bring sanity back to the internet. At the current rate I am positively scared of letting my six year old near the net.

Net neutrality should have limits.

Ramesh said...

@J - Isn't that so sad. Two Profs in IIMA did that as well - the memorising names, but they did that to show hyperfriendliness and not to police us.

@Ravi - Trust you to articulate a well thought solution Bravo.

Not sure however that you can remove the anonymity that is so essentially a part of online communication. The medium is also inherently less controllable; so there isn't an elegant solution.

Having said that, there is a massive regulation already of the net and the mobile spaces. Governments, including that of the US and India have invaded this space so blatantly that an equivalent action in the online world, would have shocked us in terms of civil liberties.

A knotty problem this one.

Venkat said...

punai peryar, thunai peyar, anonymous itha control pannale net will become safer medium. oru aaL nalu anchu mail id vachuka anumathikra mail operators-la irunthu start aguthu problem. entha site ponalum oru login name venum athu fake id nalum ok many number of id nalum ok. itha ellam olichu single id system vanthale pothum makkals koncham thirunthuvaanga. bank account open pannara mathiri google & yahoo should counters and collect passport id to open mail account.

Vincy Joseph said...

I am just getting out of my commenting blues and Lo and Behold there you are making an announcement with dire consequences.
Now I am like, should I, Should I not.. What the heck - I will start with my first attempt to get u sued. I do. ( I mean the attesting part )

J said...

I do believe that anonymity is a key component of bad behavior on the web but it is the anonymity that allows otherwise socially reserved people like myself to participate in these blog conversations, knowing that I will probably never meet anyone from this space. I know it sounds ridiculous that a grown person would need to hide behind anonymity but I suspect I am not so unique in that. But if removal of anonymity can result in a cleaner and more civilized online community then the benefits (if you can call it that) of anonymity is a small price to pay.

Ramesh said...

@Venkat - Will happen Venkat. A single sign on is not a distant dream. However, as J says, the power of anonymity should not be underestimated.

@Vincy - Oh, don't take all this seriously. Hugely value your comments and please feel free to disagree. One of the things that I am hugely indebted to all of you regular commenters is how extremely polite you all are. It is actually a pleasure to be disagreed, as after all, without a debate we rarely learn more.

So comment as you like and I'll go to jail for you :):)

@J - I agree fully with you on the benefits of anonymity. I wouldn't lose it for the world - its a precious legacy of the internet. We absolutely shouldn't throw the baby with the bathwater.

Appu said...

This blogger has not commented anything for this post. I hereby also take ownership and full responsible for all my comments here ;)
Oh last i saw you, you were definitely tall and handsome not dark though[I am not that colorblind :P]

Ramesh said...

@Zeno - Ha Ha Ha. And I am flattered; for aren't venerable philosophers' words the ultimate in truth :)

Ross Taylor said...

I am read title of the this blog then one thing come in my mind, daily lot of peoples are commenting on blog or other applications, each thought is different, each behave is different. The Australian Standards Board has however ruled that Diageo must police all reader comments on their site and that any comment by a reader would be treated as an advertising claim by Diageo and it would be liable if that were untrue, or misleading. Online Market

Ramesh said...

@Ross - Thanks for your comment.

Reflections said...

Sheesh's getting complicatedor and complicatedor;-o

@ the TDH bit - Just let me know 1 day ahead, I'm willing to testify anywhere u say...;-D

Ramesh said...

@Reflections : I am blushing, preening, puffing my chest, grinning widely, etc etc at the thought of your willingness to testify :)

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