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The Dark Side of Social Media

  |  May 4, 2011   |  Comments

For angry influencers, social bombing proves easier than search bombing.

facebook-bombThe practice of Google bombing has gone on for years, but it takes some organization and persistence to distribute enough links around the internet to make a pejorative site about George W Bush rank at the top of a query for "miserable failure."

But delivering a comparable blow in the social media landscape can be as simple as hitting a button.

Last week, an author complained that video gamers had bombed the reviews of her new book because of negative comments she had made in the press about violent games. And Fiat and Lacoste have found themselves targeted as well.

Earlier this month, Change.org organized Facebook and Twitter bombs against Fiat and Lacoste for advertising in a magazine that printed an article members found offensive.

Change.org told visitors, "Join the Facebook bomb by going to Fiat's Facebook page and Lacoste's Facebook page and leaving a message demanding that the companies pull advertising from magazines that publish rape threats. For Fiat you can write on their wall directly, and for Lacoste you can comment on one of their posts with cheeky comments like, 'I wonder which watch color would look best when threatening women?'"

The org claimed success, with both companies informing them that their campaigns in the publication had concluded.

Scott Monty, head of social media for Ford Motor Co., which generally gets high marks for its strategy, says his company will allow comments with negativity, but doesn't tolerate profanity, obscenities, hate speech or other derogatory or offensive language.

"We'll warn offenders and delete such posts. If people abuse the system, we reserve the right to ban them entirely," he says. "When brand bashers or haters appear, our fans are already attuned to sticking up for us because they love the brand and they're protective of the community we've created together."

Psychiatrist Carole Lieberman, a frequent media commentator, found the Amazon reviews of her new book, Bad Girls: Why Men Love Them & How Good Girls Can Learn Their Secrets, spammed with 135 negative reviews, pushing down the 14 five-star reviews. Her two previous books got a similar treatment, while Amazon's top tags for her are "garbage," "lies," "rape" and "trash."

Lieberman was specifically targeted by the WRONG campaign against "the Witless and Ridiculous Opinions of Non-Gamers in the mainstream media."

She has warned against violence in the media, including in video games, for many years, and says the vendetta against her was the result of comments she made about the release of Epic Games' Bulletstorm.

"I've since learned that the company that produced Bulletstorm, this is what they do. In order to get people to notice it, they create controversy," Lieberman says. "I jotted off some comments, based on my 20 years of research, and they took it out of context and changed some words." She adds, "On the whole, [what they used] wasn't something I disagreed with."

Mari Smith, social media speaker and trainer, and co-author of Facebook Marketing: An Hour a Day, tells her clients in such situations, "Do social outreach to fans and email subscribers. Get them to rally together and have them write positive reviews on Amazon."

Lieberman tried that, only to find Amazon had frozen the ability to review her book, probably as an automated response to the spam. (Amazon did not respond to requests for comment.) When she attempted to comment on individual reviews, Amazon emailed her a warning that her activity looked like spamming.

"It's unfortunate that Amazon won't do anything about it," says Smith, who herself was a victim of brandjacking, when someone masqueraded as her in several Twitter accounts. "No amount of sophisticated technology could replace in-person interaction. If you could get these trolls in a room and talk to them, things might be different."

Smith warns victims of social media abuse not to feed the fire. "If someone is cramming your blog posts, you never want to respond to a tweet by trolls or people with far less followers than you. You are giving them exposure to your followers," she says. "Don't feed the fire. And keep your head high."

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Susan Kuchinskas

Susan Kuchinskas has covered interactive advertising since its invention. The former staff writer for Adweek, Business 2.0, and M-Business covers technology, business and culture from Berkeley, CA.

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