Character Assassination, Hello Peter and the Streisand effect

On Thursday some allegations were made in a comment and I am going to tell you why I will not engage. There are three sides to every story it is said, his, mine and the truth. This article is going to talk about how to handle character assassination on the web and I am going to use a few real world examples to illustrate.

For those of you that don't know, Hello Peter is a website that allows “customers” to complain about bad service. These customers can be anonymous as they have user names. Companies fall into two categories those that respond and those that don't. The only way for a company to respond is by paying Peter Cheales a sum of money. From personal experience I know that Peter Cheales is not resident in South Africa, does not respond to emails asking for details and doesn't care that the customer may be telling porkies. What this means is that unless you pay Cheales, you have no right of response.

This is not a fair system and fortunately some people are intelligent enough to see this. To others however if it's on the internet it's real. Let's say I am a small business and am losing client share to another small company, there is nothing to stop me from posting something negative about my opposition. My opposition may be small enough to not want to spend the money on Cheales' extortion or needs the money for something more important like fuel, wages etc. As a small business owner Hello Peter has had a minimal effect on my business to my knowledge, Their footprint is smaller than they hope.

The Streisand effect basically boils down to that which you want to control on the web cannot be controlled. It was named the Streisand effect because Barbara Streisand wanted to prevent pictures of her house being shown on the web. She went legal and found out thet there are 127 986 and more trolls out there that will subvert legal rulings and that pictures will go viral.

A few years ago I developed a web product that allowed small businesses to go online for minimum cost, by maintaining and adding their own content to their website. There were free services offering something similar, but my package included a domain registration and basic setup. In essence I was offering a service that required a little input from me and we sold packages hand over fist. 32 in about 16 days. Another thing that comes to mind here is that some people are just too stupid to be allowed near the web. Some have champagne tastes and beer money, Some expect a Rolls Royce when they pay for a mini.

Back to my tale. Some bloke that has never met me, has not ever spoken to me directly decided that this was a bad idea and needed some adverse information. To this day I have no idea what his motives were, but without seeing the code he slated it on the internet. I may never have heard about this but for one thing, I was a very involved blogger and the South African blogosphere picked up on it and a few people wrote about it.

I panicked and made loud noises, made a few threats and sent lawyers letters. Suddenly I was the evil one, wanting to censor the internet and stop others from their use of free speech. Then the blogosphere really started in on this. If you search Google, you can still find lingering traces of this saga. My lesson from this is do not engage, ever. You will end up being the subject of a zillion articles and when it's on the web it's true.

Someone made the giant leap that if it was untrue you can sue for defamation or whatever. In the real world this is not so easy, You need a to know who your accuser is and you need deep pockets, The last time I spent money on legal services the lawyers wanted a bag full of money before they would start. Anyone who has had any legal doings knows that the person that can spend the most, lie the best is generally the winner. The bloke battling to pay his rent is never the winner.

There are a number of things I can tell you but get just this one, do not engage, people are petty and to some the only motivation to kick someone is that they are on the ground. The damage is less costly that way. You are welcome.

Amandlawhereto 2014/08/22 03:42:50 PM
//I know that Peter Cheales is not resident in South Africa// Sadly he actually does reside in South Africa - in fact he just renovated an old house in a plush JHB suburb without bothering to get permission from the Heritage Association - I wonder what would would happen if they lodged a complaint against him on Hellopeter? I suppose he could pay to respond and use the expense as a tax deduction! I agree with your point about the Hellopeter website - it is basically extortion - a customer can whinge for free and companies have to pay ridiculous amounts of money to respond. We also decided a few years back to stop paying and no longer respond to complaints on that website, our philosophy being that the type of people who whinge on the Hellopeter website are not the type of customers we want anyway - we have our own website and toll free numbers, serious customers with far more class then those on Hellopeter can contact us directly for service!
Wessel Croukamp 2014/08/22 05:29:28 PM
you cant always get what you want... if i vote for a party and they loose the election then there is nothing you can do about it except get over it and move on. the customer is not always right but he has an opinion as an owner i will decide if he is right or wrong especially when it comes to the food industry.and unfortunately you cant keep everyone happy. it is not what you say to a customer it is how you say it.
TheJaydedKing 2014/08/23 05:52:49 AM
Godless - I couldnt agree with you more. In my opinion Hello Peter amounts to nothing more than extortion. Make a case, I will join.
ThinkingApe 2014/08/23 08:31:04 AM
I had no idea, that money, had to be paid to respond to complaints on hellopeter. The example given by Iru from hellopeter was not even a complaint, it was just a single unsubstantiated allegation by an anonymous person. And yet this sort of thing can have a negative,and sometimes disastrous impact on your business, whether true or not is besides the point. Peoples perceptions are real. I understand what godless heathen is saying about responding to BS, BUT Remember people do business with people that they like and trust, and even if they don't like the people too much, will still do business with those that they trust. As a businessman, especially the owner of a small business YOUR reputation is everything, protect it with everything you have. I witnessed a friend losing a 12 million rand annual contract because of an argument over the hire of a plate compactor for a day, 11 years before. It involved the now new MD of the company concerned. Was my friend right? Absolutely, but being "right" over the R76.00, (yes seventy six rand) hire for a compactor cost him a years turnover and 2 to 3 million in profit. The MD said he knew my friend from years before and he was 'finnicky' and difficult over cents,and that he dreaded the prospect of having to work with someone such as that on such a large project. Sometimes, in fact most times, it is better to be nice, rather than right.
Kim Mirea 2014/10/29 12:20:22 AM
I lost my (new) job at a restuarant because an old colleague I hadn't seen in years was so 'delighted' to see me she kept on calling me back to her table, even grabbing at me once as I passed by: she rather tactlessly introduced me to her brand new (much younger) husband as her 'Toy boy', embarrasing him terribly, and insisted on knowing if the gossip was true about my husband having deserted me and my kids for a younger woman he had gotten pregnant (it was), and leaving me destitute after forcing me to sell my business and properties I owned, and taking all the money (he had) - as you can imagine it was a painful subject for me, and besides that we were really busy, so I tried to put her off as tactfully as possible by inviting her for coffee the next day - was I pleased when their meal arrived! I said I didnt want their meal to get cold and finally escaped! I was quite pleased with my tactful handling of the whole thing.... Little did I know! --- My boss (owner of the restuarant) and two people from the franchise head office called me in a few days later and gave me a terrible dressing down: this female had written to hellopeter to complain, under the guise of the young husband, about how depressing it was to hear about my sad 'life story' (she already knew all about it, or she wouldnt have gleefully pressed me for more details - getting rather huffy when I offered to chat another time, over coffee) and it 'put them off' their meal..? (they cleaned their plates)...