Sunday 11 December 2016

Facebook rules

I’ve been resisting it for years but the time has come to lay down a code of conduct for our Facebook group. My hesitation in defining these rules has partially been because I’d hoped that all members of the group would somehow just know how to conduct themselves. The vast majority of them do, but a few seem not to have realised how it’s meant to work. That’s my fault for not making it clear. Mea culpa.

Let’s start with one of the basics. Naming people.

Please don’t name individuals when you post a complaint. I have no problems at all with you naming a company, store or supplier, but don’t name the specific employee that offended or mistreated you. The reason is simple. In almost all cases they don’t have a right of reply. That might be because they’re not on Facebook or it might because they are but they haven’t joined our group but it’s more likely that their employer doesn’t permit them to comment in their personal capacity. That’s actually a reasonable rule. If you’re the MD or CEO of a company do you really want your employees posting on your company’s behalf? How will you control what they say? How will you keep them “on message”? How will you prevent them posting something inappropriate while drunk in a bar on a Friday night? How will you prevent them saying what they really think about their customers, colleagues or you, their boss? Most companies decide it’s simpler not to permit staff to say anything on Facebook about their work. They’re free to comment on football, Kardashian posteriors and the weather, just not work.

Some companies go even further and refuse to engage with Facebook altogether. Obviously that’s their decision but I think it’s a bit like not engaging with the telephone network. Whether you like it or not, it’s there and it’s not going anywhere. Those companies need to get with it and join the 21st century.

So don’t name specific individuals, it’s just not fair.

Meanwhile feel free to name people if you’re celebrating them. If you have a good news story to tell then feel free to name the person who delighted you. Even post their picture as well if you like. Celebrations are very different from complaints. They should be public so we can all learn who the service stars are and where they work.

Don’t post advertisements. None. Not even one. I don’t care how good you think the product is, don’t advertise it. Just don’t. There are plenty of very good Facebook groups devoted to advertising, buying and selling things but ours isn’t one of them. All advertisements will be deleted and a polite message sent to the person who posted it asking them not to do it again. If they later post another they’re gone from the group, simple as that.

The same goes for irrelevant material. Silly jokes, pictures and links to news stories that have nothing to do with consumer issues are banned. The same rule applies. Two strikes and you’re out.

Then there are the offensive posts. Of the more than 45,000 people currently in the group, the overwhelming majority are easy-going, tolerant and peaceful. They’re good neighbours. They get excitable sometimes but their hearts are in the right place. However, as hard as we try to prevent it, occasionally someone different slips through the net. Like the one who used “the k word” to describe people of a darker skin tone than hers. Like the one who wanted a particular minority group killed. Like all the people who have made sweeping generalizations about our Indian, Pakistani or Chinese neighbours.

I can’t police what’s in your head but I WILL judge you by what you write in our Facebook group. Hate speech will be deleted and you will be expelled and banned from ever returning. So if you have racist, bigoted or otherwise toxic views, keep them inside your head and out of our group.

Finally, there’s no space in the group for people trying to sell scams. Despite the nature of the group and its content we’ve often had people actively trying to recruit people into pyramid schemes like World Ventures (and their descendent, Dream Trips) and Ponzi schemes like Eurextrade. That’s simply unacceptable.

What’s more complicated is when people are more subtle. Recently someone was posting regular comments about Bitcoin, the fascinating new “cryptocurrency”. While I’ve no problem with people discussing Bitcoin, or even promoting it, what I object to is people exploiting the widespread public ignorance about it for their own gain. The person posting comments on Bitcoin, who suggested that people should “invest” in it, actually had another agenda. She was doing her best to promote a pyramid scheme called Bitclub Network which its proponents describe as "The most innovative and lucrative way to earn Bitcoin", suggesting that getting involved in “Bitcoin mining” is a way to make money. They also say that "With BitClub Network you earn daily profits from our shared mining pools. We also have a referral program so you can get paid for anyone you refer."

Bitclub Network is nothing more than a mixture of Ponzi scheme with pyramid elements.

While Bitcoin and the technology it uses are fascinating, it's no more than a new currency. It's not an investment scheme and if anyone tells you otherwise and encourages you to start buying Bitcoins or to join a scheme like Bitclub Network, saying you can make lots of money, ask yourself this simple question. How do they benefit from me joining?

So that sort of thing isn’t permitted in the Facebook group either.

If you haven’t joined our group yet, please do. It’s full of interesting, caring people who do their best to help one another. Just play by the rules, OK?

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