Ten years ago, if someone had told us that a mighty multinational corporation would find itself on the ropes because of a handful of malicious haters spewing insults from their couches, we would have laughed. But the truth is that companies of every size are now making illogical, desperate decisions to protect themselves from amateur social media lobbyists. When did we start giving so much power to purveyors of slander and vitriol?
Let’s step into the buzzing rumor mill of America’s top music celebrities for a moment. Since 2009, the famous rapper and designer Kanye West has been waging an all-out crusade against the talentless (in his opinion) singer Taylor Swift. This year, the elegant rapper added fuel to the fire when he released a new song that showers the songstress with abuse.
Fans in both camps, haters for the opposing team, immediately began exchanging insults on social media. The problem is that supporters of #TeamKimye, led by Kanye and his wife Kim Kardashian, are more numerous and vocal in their denigration of Taylor Swift.
What is Swift to do in the face of such an avalanche of negative comments? Instagram thinks it has the answer: a filter for its most premium accounts (for now, apparently it’s available to Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, and Kim Kardashian) that works in the following manner. The celebrity in question can use this tool to instruct Instagram to block all comments containing key words she doesn’t like, and the social network simply eliminates them.
This way, Taylor Swift is free to navigate the tranquil waters of flattery and praise on her social networks, fanned by those who love her and would do anything for their muse. But we have to wonder, is this really fair? What about negative comments that are sincere and even necessary?
We all agree that haters are annoying and have no place in a healthy, civilized debate. But when is it OK to block and censure a troll, and when are we silencing the general opinion of followers of a brand, who are also entitled to say what they think and do so respectfully?
Instagram protects celebrities from those pressure groups, and it’s not the only company that’s listening to (or muzzling, in this case) their opinions. Last week, negative comments posted on Twitter drove Nestlé to disavow one of the influencers it works with.
JPelirrojo was lambasted on social media for an ironic comment on the death of a bullfighter (‘If an arsonist burns to death in a fire of his own making, it’s delightful poetic justice. So, screw the bullfighters’), and the hashtag #boicotNestle was a trending topic for hours. Nestlé, which had him on the payroll for its Maxibon ice cream campaign, announced via Twitter that JPelirrojo would no longer be the image of that campaign.
And the debate was on. To what degree should JPelirrojo and his opinions be moderated because of his connection with Nestlé? Should Nestlé have caved in to pressure from the Twitter community?
Twitter trolls decided to focus their anger on Nestlé instead of targeting the person who, in their opinion, had done wrong. Things got so bad that the brand announced it would dispense with his services. But many protested the decision; while condemning JPelirrojo’s poor judgment, they believed that his opinions on bullfighting had nothing to do with ice cream advertisements.
Brands, keenly aware of the buzz-generating (and opinion-shaping) power of the fiercest social media users, take action with no thought other than to solve the problem quickly. But people will always find ways to insult Taylor Swift, and Nestlé will never find a perfectly spotless, honorable, irreproachable influencer unless they hire an android, so should we really give haters that much power?