I recently attended a WOM UK briefing run by Reed Smith on the subject of ‘the benefits and legal risks of Word of Mouth Marketing in Social Media.’ One of the subjects touched upon was moderation; when inviting comment from the public, how much responsibility does the publisher have for the content that’s uploaded to their website?

This is an issue that’s undoubtedly on the radar of the HM Treasury this week as they opened ‘The Spending Challenge’ to the public for the first time. For those of you unfamiliar with the idea, ‘The Spending Challenge’ is essentially a forum that allows the public to suggest ideas for where spending cuts could be made to tackle the budget deficit. Recent criticism stems from the fact that the site’s moderators have been allowing offensive comments to remain visible to anyone who visits the site. A quick search through recent comments on ‘The Spending Challenge’ website reveals a multitude of comments tagged by users under terms including ‘hate crime,’ ‘hate,’ ‘facist’ and  ‘racial hatred.’ There’s a witty summary of the latest posts here entitled ‘Race hate meets comedy gold.’

What’s actually a potentially brilliant tactic by the government to engage the public in the debt crisis recovery is now in danger of becoming drastically tarnished by negative media coverage and sarcastic Tweets.

Crowdsourcing is one of the latest buzz words in social media at the moment with many brands seeing the benefits of both customer engagement and business/product development. However, ‘The Spending Challenge’ shows that inviting opinions on any subject which has the potential for defamatory material and comment needs a carefully considered moderation plan. Is a ‘Notify and Take Down’ system always the right method in these situations?

It will be interesting to watch the steps taken by the government to control the current media backlash on ‘The Spending Challenge.’ Clearly, a more rigorous moderation process is needed to ensure the public’s suggestions are constructive and serve the website’s purpose. For those of us in the PR & Marketing industry, it’s a stark reminder of how unwieldy a tool the web really is. Whilst crowdsourcing might sound like a great campaign tactic, it’s vital to remember that we can’t control what people say on websites and social media platforms. The potential for damaging coverage and comments is ever present and it’s the average savvy webuser who is the most stringent moderator of them all.

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