October 14, 2008

Misusing the Social Media

The misuse of online forums or weblogs by advertisers and marketers posing as online consumers enthusiastically talking about brands or products is nothing new. Walmarting is a term often used to describe efforts to plant advertisement into public online forums disguised as honest opinion of people. The Dutch television program Radar paid recently attention to the phenomenon by presenting the results of their investigation to the origin of some over-enthusiastic posts in blogs and forums.
The whole practice is naive if not stupid. Many such cases of fraud have been traced by vigilant web users in the past and reached publicity that in the end was damaging for the reputation and credibility of the firms involved. On the other hand the practice undermines the web neutrality and the very nature of the social Media as platforms of open dialog.
Is there any solution to the problem? Not an easy one I am afraid. The anonymity of the web makes such practices easy and very tempting. Screening of comments in blogs and forums by experienced moderators could reduce the number of fake posts. A filter that could stop such posts by adding their creators to a black list of a Hall of Shame would maybe help. Using clever data mining techniques identifying and blocking such silly practices could also be a part of the solution. For sure the best solution would be the obligation of participants in online discussions to register and fully disclose their personal data. This would also reduce the volume of posts that sometimes are just disturbing, offensive or pure nonsense but this is the most difficult to be accepted and applied solution. Maybe the best weapon is to be critical to very enthusiastic or very repulsive online comments.