Opinion

Don’t believe everything you read in the comment thread

A peculiar thing happened yesterday.

I was planning to write a follow-up article to a story about a public service media company in Singapore scrapping one of its services.

The move has proved to be rather unpopular – every comment beneath our story on Mumbrella has been negative. So I approached this company inviting them to fight their corner. I also asked them if they’d like to leave a comment in our comment thread.

I was told the following in an email: “We will seed and balance the comments in Mumbrella.”

I wasn’t quite sure what that meant.

Twenty-three minutes later, a comment popped up in our system.

The comment was very positive about the decision to switch off this service, listing all the reasons why it was a good idea.

This would have been fine if this company – a public service media owner in squeaky clean Singapore, remember – had declared who it was.

Instead, the firm masqueraded as Joe Public. The comment even went so far as to say that his or her own mother approved of the company’s decision.

Could this have been a coincidence? Could it have been a genuine member of the public posting?

To make sure, I asked the company and they admitted that, yes, they had left this comment.

It would probably be unfair to name the company or individual who wrote the comment, because I invited them to comment and they did…

There has been a lot of debate online about this particular story. And looking closely at the comment threads on other sites such as The Straits Times’, other posts look suspiciously positive too.

Some use the same tone as the comment that popped up in Mumbrella’s system, although with a different turn of phrase and selection of words.

The last thing you want is for comments to look too similar, I suppose.

Could they be the same person, writing to defend the honour of the firm? Or different people from the same corp comms team?

Some companies, even those with a duty to serve the public, will go out of their way to defend their image and the decisions they make, even if means misleading the reader.

Woe betide looking bad in public. Heaven forbid look wrong.

Just as people have to read between the lines in the mainstream media to get to the real news in Singapore, so do readers of its public forums.

Robin Hicks

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