As one of the Level343 team members, I have to say - this is a fantastic intellectual discussion, and we’re always glad when a post elicits such conversation.
The conversation as a whole brought up several thoughts I’d like to address from a personal and intellectual standpoint. Let me apologize for the long response ahead of time lol – this is the first chance I’ve had to respond, and a lot of thoughts have been running around in my head…
First (from a personal standpoint), I can assure you, +Gabriella Sannino
wouldn’t think of herself, or her actions, as “vigilante”, especially when you look at the negative connotations of the word:
Vigilante: any person who takes the law into his or her own hands, as by avenging a crime.
Vigilante Justice: [Justice] done violently and summarily, without recourse to lawful procedures
Synonyms: avenger, castigator, chastiser, punisher, scourge, nemesis
The post is a review, albeit a negative one; she had an experience with a company and it turned out poorly. Had it turned out well and she posted it, then we shared it everywhere, would it be viewed in the same light? Of course not. If she had mentioned in the post that she was going to try and get the positive review pushed to the same page as the man’s site, would it be viewed the same? No.
In my opinion, by claiming this to be an act of digital vigilantism her actions are put into the same group as LULZ and Anonymous. –Yet, her actions aren’t violent; if anything, they’re passive. Unless, of course, things have changed to the point that telling the truth is considered a verbal, violent attack. Perhaps what brings thoughts of vigilante actions is the overall tone of the article? i.e. the very fact that it’s negative?+Jeff Jockisch
- Where is the line?
(From an intellectual standpoint) Good question – interesting thoughts. Where can you draw the line between a review and bashing a reputable company? If anyone with a high enough following can write a negative review and destroy a company, how can you know the truth, and is any company safe?
( +Gregory Esau
– Good points, by the way; for social to really work, you have to have some amount of followers. As well, for the review to really make a difference, you have to have a following in the local area of the business.)
I thought about this for a long time before responding, because, darn it, that’s a deep question. –Yet, I think where we draw the line is fact checking.
I helped Gabriella with a lot of the research for the article; once she told me what happened, we started digging into the company’s background. (Let me just say, if this is a reputable, legitimate company, I must not understand what a reputable company is.) The post isn’t just about Gabriella’s experience – if it were, I could see how it would beg the question, “Can it be believed?” Anyone can have a “he said, she said” argument, right?
Here’s where I think a review deviates from the “he said, she said”, and where the line is drawn between bashing a reputable company and posting a legitimate complaint. These, I think, are important divergences.
One, she posted the review under her own name, on our company blog – i.e. she’s publicly claiming the review. He is free to respond at any time, and will be aware of whom he’s responding to; the reviewer is not a nameless, faceless individual. I don’t know how many of you read our blog, but we’re pretty transparent. As +Eugene O'Donnell
points out, “unless the person providing the rating is transparent, the rating is suspect.”
By posting publicly, she places her personal and business reputation on the line. This isn’t something we take lightly, nor should it be. Posting a public, negative review of a company is a serious thing and a careful undertaking. If a reputable company stakes that reputation on a negative review, I think I’d be more willing to believe it. But then, if that company has a strong, positive reputation, could they gain that through underhanded tactics? It’s probably possible, but I don’t think they could maintain it.
Two, we checked the facts beyond Gabriella’s experience. We found negative review after negative review. We provided links to much of the same material we uncovered in our research, with the exception of the sites themselves. No link juice for him, sorry – but, you can follow the reviews to see the sites in question.
A negative post review without facts and links to back it up is one I will question – probably because we deal with online reputation on a daily basis, and I understand that competitors can be less than above board in a fight for number one. I want the ability to trace the footsteps of the writer and make up my own mind; do I agree with their summarization or not? After all, you can’t make everybody happy. Without those links pointing to other information, it could be just a matter of a company having an “off” day, right?
-And maybe this is where social responsibility comes in, for the reputation management, social media and online marketing companies. Perhaps we, as an industry, should provide information to the public that exposes erroneous post reviews for what they are; or, at the very least, a list of things to look for in a reputable review. For example, “If a post review – positive or negative – doesn’t have external links backing up the tone of the article, take it with a grain of salt” or “Always do your own research, to see what others have to say.”
Unfortunately, at the end of the day, +Lyndon NA
has a point about the mob mentality. Anytime a public outing occurs, the possibility of a lynch mob coming together is there. I’ve seen it among the SEOs in our own industry, as well as others. This is one of the reasons, among many, that the person or company doing the outing should always carefully consider the consequences before doing so.
Can technology help referee any of the issues? Well, maybe momentarily. Right now, general Internet users are getting more savvy. Yet, I also think those who participate in smear campaigns and scam artists will only get more savvy. They’ll adapt to the changes of the Internet to keep doing what they’re doing.
Hopefully, all of us who see doom and gloom for social media, in terms of smear campaigns, conmen and so on, are wrong. I’d like to think that we, as a society, would be able to eradicate illegitimate companies and unethical business practices. That’s the idealist in me, however. The realist says that, in every society, there’s always going to be the scum that rises to the top.