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Backlash and the Censorship of Online Criticism

Approx Reading Time-12After the fiasco surrounding Mothership Media’s handling of the NYE backlash, TBS looks at the issue of social media censorship in business (and some pretty sassy responses).

 

The battlelines between customer and business have never been closer. With the increased contact that social media brings comes the magnification of criticism. In the past, criticism of service or product has been kept to the individual, or in a larger, yet manageable group of wronged. It could be handled internally, without the chance of an error twisting out of control- a situation turned by a massed collective of the unhappy.

The openness of social media is inexorably linked with the threat of the media, and with it, the chance to make a bad situation worse. The temptation to whitewash critical voices as a method of damage limitation is a real issue. This mindset best evidenced in Mothership Media’s rank mishandling of their ‘Above the Harbour’ New Years Eve event, but also in Australia Post’s actions in response to their unexpected closure on New Years Eve.

Criticism, whether just or unjust, must be taken seriously. Even if the criticism itself is ridiculous, as evidenced by the recent overt claims of a hairdresser and an overdosing junkie that spoiled her enjoyment of a meal (which turned out to be 70-year-old woman), it must be handled immediately, regardless of the issue.

With businesses taking the censorship route, what happens to those customers who have been shut out in this manner?

TBS spoke with Sarah Forde, who attended the now infamous Above The Harbour NYE event, and took us through the shifting emotional landscape in the days since the last evening of 2015.

It was the great night out that never was but it is the mornings after that have increased the feeling of division.

Ms Forde was met with the now well-publicised shortcomings of the event. Despite this, the vibe of the night was one of optimism with the issues largely taken in good humour to make the best of a disappointing situation. It was, after all, New Years Eve in Sydney Harbour.

Beneath Sarah’s good-natured British humour runs an undercurrent of vast disappointment. Not in the money lost, but rather in the grand moment she didn’t experience. Sarah travelled to the event as one of a group of nine, which included her mother, visiting Australia for the first time.

The shift in collective mood turned when the silent masses begun to voice their dismay on the event’s Facebook page. One photo followed two, which swept into a turgid flood of voiced criticism. The administrator of the Facebook account began systematically thinning the comments, before outrageously closing down the page entirely.

This collective bonfire of agitation has been further stoked by the eventual response from the organisers, who have re-entered the arena promising a partial refund (to the tune of $100) a move described by Ms Forde as “a weak excuse of an apology”.

Ms Forde was one of the original posters and so has been excluded from the conversation, as she remains blocked from Mothership Media’s facebook page. So while Mothership Media has made their PR move, it is seemingly only for those who didn’t rock the boat. Ms Forde has read the refund email from the organisers, but only after it was forwarded to her from another member of her party (the only one out of the nine to receive it).

Strangely, Mothership Media’s waving of the olive branch has only served to mobilise criticism. A move that has dragged people like Ms Forde back to the shores of anger.

Originally, I had the impression that an earnest apology would sate Ms Forde and others like her, but with the Mothership Media’s subsequent actions, it has pushed that to the farthest realms of acceptance. Ms Forde will now be seeking restitution, stating that “ …quite frankly has annoyed me more than the actual events on the evening”.

“In my opinion it’s not an apology, rather a raft of excuses – which are not acceptable or legitimate. The offer of $100 refund is more of an insult than if they hadn’t offered anything,” she added.

A sentiment shared by a fellow partygoer, Paul Harper-Jones, who described the offer to TBS as “a joke”.

“We will be seeking nothing less than a full refund. Especially when you compare what they were selling as per their marketing / advertising,” said Mr Harper-Jones.

The statements of Mothership Media have garnered one in response: a Facebook page created as a platform for those who were blocked to gather and plan the next move, which at this stage will seemingly involve the NSW Fair Trade Commission.

Companies are now keener than ever to enter a dialogue with their customers via social media but it should always remain a conversation. While whitewashing of criticism is a move that one can make, the freedom of social media is a game for two. The power that allows the silencing of criticism also magnifies the volume of those who have been removed.

An evening that should have lived long in the memory as a golden, vibrant piece of nostalgia has now been replaced by a tepid angry watermark. The crescendo originally envisioned with a choir of fireworks when the clock struck 2016, to some, has been now moved to a date when an adequate salve is poured on the emotional burns suffered in the New Year.

Some companies though, get social media responses just right on!! Here are our top 5 sassiest responses to customer comments…

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TBS Likes is a strange place where anything goes. Like International Waters, or Christmas morning after the shine has worn off and the booze has kicked in. May the ugliness commence.

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