Sunday, August 12, 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 !

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