Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) Suspends Facebook Comments Function Over 'Cyber-Harassment'

The Straits Times today reported that Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) had to temporarily disable its Facebook comments page after animal rights activists flooded it with messages calling for the release of the resort's 25 dolphins.

RWS' response was to go on the offensive by labelling the activist's actions as cyber-harassment and attributed responsibility to Animal Concerns Research and Education Society's (ACRES). To support their position, RWS provided screen-shots of the “abusive” posting and cited ACRES' own Facebook wall posting on 2 Sep 2011 where it “urged its followers to repeatedly post messages relating to the Marine Life Park on the Resorts World Sentosa Facebook page over the weekend from 9am Saturday to 9pm Sunday”.

So what can Crisis Communicators learn from this?

Firstly, RWS' response. It is my opinion that RWS made the correct decision to suspend the comment function on its Facebook page. Similar to an incident in which activists stand in your physical establishment and deny you the freedom to conduct your business, it is necessary for an organisation to use all proportionate means to deal with the “attack” and to allow it to restore normal business activities.

Secondly, and this is where I disagree with RWS, is its approach to go on the offensive against ACRES. I disagree with this approach as ACRES is after all an activists group and being labelled negatively is nothing new to them – in fact, it is expected. Additionally, crediting them with the “attack” adds to its “street credibility” and it is likely to embolden them further.

When dealing with activists, it must be noted that such groups are made up of the vocal elements (those that do the actions), a larger base of silent supporters (those that provide the financial support) and a still larger base of people that tolerate them (those that say do what you want just don't inconvenience me). Thus, it is my opinion, that a better approach for RWS would have been to seek to undermine ACRES credibility and support by indirectly by turning its silent supporters against them and the larger population's tolerance of them. To this end, RWS should have adopted a Theme of “benevolence” and hence (a) acknowledge that ACRES held a different view from RWS and the majority of Singaporeans; (b) RWS is willing to work with ACRES to address their concerns; (c) a denial of service attack on RWS' Facebook wall was not constructive as it inconvenienced other customers.

Activism is not common in Singapore. Unfortunately, with the increasing reach of Social Media, Singapore companies need to understand activism, its structure, and how to deal with it. This attack on RWS will certainly not be the last.

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