Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Petition to Close STOMP - More Form than Substance

CW Fong & Associates' Principal Consultant, Justin Fong, was on Al Jazeera's Stream earlier this morning speaking on the topic of closing STOMP.

This issue arose because a netizen named Robin Li felt that STOMP was an undesirable social media platform as it was promoting public shaming and started a petition to have it closed.

Being a social media consultancy that specializes in reputation management issues, we are often times defending our clients' online (and "real" world) reputation against false and malicious attacks. As much as we loathe the irresponsible use of social media platforms like STOMP, we firmly oppose the petition on the following grounds:

Do not throw the baby out with the bath water. Sure there are many instances of public shaming on STOMP. But this exists on practically every type of social media platforms. Closing STOMP will not solve the problem as another platform will take its place. Calling for the closure of STOMP because it promotes public shaming is like calling for a ban on car sales as it causes accidents. The platform is not the issue. How people use it is.

Social Media amplifies, it does not create. One of the biggest obstacles companies face when deciding on whether to have a social media presence is the question of "what if I don't like what I hear". As I always tell my clients, whether you have a social media presence or not, people are taking about you on social media. Denying the problem does not make it go away. Not hearing the negative feedback does not change the facts. While STOMP's stories are mostly negative, it does provide a good barometer of public sentiments. Just like if there is a trend of customer complaints about poor product quality, then there must be an issue over quality control. In the same light, if there are numerous complaints about anti-social behavior, then there is more that can be done to educate people. In short, Social Media does not create the issues, it just amplifies them.

Can't put the genie back in the bottle. Much as the supporters of the petition would like, I am afraid that you can't put the genie back in the bottle. The amorphous and ubiquitous nature of the world wide web means that people will increasingly develop and post their own contents on the web. If supporters of the petition think by closing STOMP people will suddenly become more civil or society will change, they are delusional. Even if just 0.1% of netizens are trolls, that means in a population of 5 million, there are 5,000 people out there causing trouble. To me, the answer lies not in stopping the trolls as this is impossible. The answer lies in educating the other 99.9% on how to differentiate truth from fiction. Like it or not, social media is here to stay.

In short, while the petition by Robin Li is initiated and supported with good intentions, we believe that it is a knee-jerk reaction that is more form than substance. Perhaps the one good thing that has come out of this petition, is that there is an ongoing discussion on the need for responsible use of social media.

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