Bad Press in the Public Domain

Marketing 2014-05-29

Today, most people take the Internet for granted. People and businesses rely on it. Platforms on the Internet such as Twitterare now widely used by businesses to share news and promote themselves. Customers can also interact with businesses via Twitter, providing them with positive and negative press. Recent reports have asked whether Twitter is now the best place to complain about a business or service. Putting a complaint in the public domain is bound to receive a quicker more productive response than making a phone call, where you might be kept on hold or fobbed off by the person you are speaking to. For example, if you have experienced an unsatisfactory meal at a restaurant and said so on Twitter, it is likely that you will receive a quick response from the restaurant perhaps offering you a discount on your next meal or apologising for your bad experience. There have been instances where these social interactions on twitter have gone viral, with 1,000s of people retweeting responses. If handled well, a company can turn round the negative press to work in their favour. A poll by Fishburn Hedges communications agency and Echo Research in 2012 gathered information from 2,000 people and found that 36% of people had used a social media platform to contact a big company, and 65% of the participants said that they would prefer to use social media than using call centres to contact the companies.

This raises another prominent question about whether there is ever a time when bad press should be allowed to be removed/deleted from the Internet. If there is something negative that you want to prevent from coming up in a Google search, how do you go about changing that? A recent ruling by the European Court of Justice(ECJ) has given people the right to block links to information held about them online, the law for ‘the right to be forgotten’ was proposed in 2012, and is based on a need to protect personal data.

The European ruling gives people the right to request information (personal data) to be removed if it appears to be ‘inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant’. So far there is no word on how this will be decided. There are arguments for and against the ruling, with some parties worried that information, which is of public interest, could be removed. In practice the current ruling will force search engines such as Google to remove links to requested information, although the information itself will remain online. A Google spokesperson said, “The ruling has significant implications for how we handle takedown requests. This is logistically complicated – not least because of the many languages involved and the need for careful review. As soon as we have thought through exactly how this will work, which may take several weeks, we will let users know.”

Some critics believe a situation could arise where a search engine giant may eliminate links liberally to avoid lawsuits. Most people agree the right balance will be difficult to find. However, the EJC ruling seems to have erred in the favour of the rights of people whose privacy has possibly been infringed, and suggests this is more important than the public’s interest in seeing the information released. This therefore prioritises the rights of individuals to privacy over the rights of businesses to make money. The ruling could also affect non-EU web based businesses that have a presence in Europe. Under the ruling these non-EU businesses will potentially need to conform their websites to comply with EU privacy laws.

The rights of people and businesses using the Internet including the ‘right to be forgotten and the ‘right to transparency’ will always be a subject of debate, with strong arguments for and against. But the Internet remains a powerful tool for both people and businesses if used wisely.