Monday, 15 July 2013

Beware the baying mob of Facebook

Late last evening I received a message on Facebook from a distant friend. It was asking me to 'like' a Facebook page entitled "Boycott the (name of hotel) in (town)".  I have deleted any references to the hotel or the people concerned as I have no wish to fuel the story. 

I clicked on the link out of curiosity; why would an old friend from 15 years back, who I doubt has ever travelled to Scotland, feel so angry about an hotel as to encourage his friends to dislike it by proxy?

In a nutshell, a lady was holidaying with her family and they visited the this hotel for lunch. Included in the party was her uncle who has Down Syndrome. Allegedly they were left waiting for twenty minutes, given 'dirty looks; by staff, and when someone finally came to take their order they would not allow her uncle to order fish fingers from the child's menu as he was an adult. When the complained, a supervisor came over and said, "we cannot serve you today" and asked them to leave. 

The aggrieved lady quickly set-up a Facebook page telling her story, accompanied by several pictures of her uncle, and circulated the page to her friends asking them, in turn, to spread the message.  At the time of writing, the page has been shared 21,313 times, and the number is growing by around 2,000 per hour.  Thousands have posted messages of support. The hotel's phone number, website, fax number and email address have been published along with messages encouraging people to bombard the hotel with angry complaints. The managers name has been published (but thankfully not yet his home address, but will it be long before someone traces him and does so).  Visit Scotland's website is under siege, complaints made to MPs, the Disability Scotland Campaign Group, similar posts of the hotel "discriminating against disabled people" have been posted on other travel and hotel review sites.  What is also noticeable is that the few people who dared to post messages saying that the hotel should be allowed to investigate and respond have also been attacked by the baying mob and accused of hating disabled people or likened to Hitler.  What we do know, however, is apart from the family concerned, 23,000 people have expressed a view based on no more detail that one persons interpretation of events.

I have no reason to believe the complainant is not genuine, and if her complaints are proven then clearly the hotel needs to make redress and seriously review it's training and development policy. Other than that I am not going to comment as I was not there. What we do know is the hotel might have found their reputation destroyed by what might be an unhappy or poorly trained member of staff, or one who did not feel sufficiently empowered to change the rules over serving a child's meal to an adult.  

This does, however, show how vulnerable any organisation or individual is to trial by implication in the court of public opinion and the very real and instant risk to reputation from social media, with very little redress should the accusations be false or malicious.

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