“I definitely won’t be supporting Prita,” said the Corporate Communications officer of a major bank vehemently.
Unspun had bumped into her when meeting with clients and, by way of small chat, asked if she was supporting Prita Mulyasari, the housewife who was jailed for three weeks because she had been charged under the Electronic Information and Transaction Law. She was indicted after she complained about the service at Omni International Hospital.
Unspun was taken aback. Since the story broke, Prita had been elevated into a cause celebre against an asinine law and an equally asinine legal system where the punishment certainly did not fit the crime. I asked her why she felt so strongly against supporting Prita.
“Well,” she said. “People like her have to learn that you still have to be responsible for what you write, even if its on the Internet.”
“We receive dozens of complaints like that everyday, and most of the complaints are baseless. Yet they find their way into mailing lists and before you know it the mainstream media picks up on what they said,” she added.
“So I think Omni was right to take action against her. I hope they sue her for a lot of money to deter people like her,” she spat. Later, when the venom had somewhat subsided, he admitted that jailing Prita for complaining was an excessively harsh measure, but the principle of holding her legally accountable for what she wrote still applied.
She has a point. Libel is still libel, even if it is on the internet and people should take responsibility for what they write.Indonesia’s libel laws are a mess as it does not treat libel as a tort but as a crime. The existence of the Electronic Information and Transaction Law, meant to stop unscrupulous people from peddling smut with impunity, only serves to make the issue even a bigger mess.
But even if there was clarity in the law it is a legitimate question to ask whether the new media makes it futile for companies to try to protect their reputation by taking onliners to court. Here’s the reasoning why it may not be a god idea.
In the old days there was an admonishment to any would-be plaintiff against trying to sue newspapers. They were told that “you do not pick a fight anyone who buys ink by the barrel.” The lesson there is that even if you win the case in the court of law the publisher or journalists would, because they control the channels of mass communications, win the image war.
Fast forward to today, the age of Web 2.0 and Social Media where everyone is virtually a publisher. Everyone, through the seemingly limitless capacity of the Net to publish and to scale issues, all of a sudden are sitting on their own barrels of (virtual) ink.
This begs the question of whether any business, especially if they are large and therefore perceived as a social Goliath, should pick a fight with any of the Net’s publishers – the email writer, the mailist commentator, the blogger, the Twitterer.
From what has happened in the Prita case the answer is an unequivocal no. Even if Omni International Hospital wins the legal battle, it has already lost its reputation and is not likely to regain it within a short time.
What then are companies to do. Unspun‘s friend’s complaint is valid. As a large company they get dozens of complaints per day, many of them, in closer investigation, proving baseless. Do they ignore these complaints that pop up like mushrooms after rain on the Net? Will ignoring them encourage or discourage further complaints? And if they do try to answer to these complaints, wouldn’t that very action embolden the complainers and other who have yet to complain?
Well, yes and no. We live in an age where everyone is virtually a publisher. And since you don’t pick fights with publishers the only alternative left is to engage them.Talk to them, be someone infulential in their “neighboorhod”, be good listeners and act on their cimplaints, either to get to the bottom of their grouses or to take action to remedy a wrong. If companies can do these then it has a very good chance of becoming a leader in the Web 2.0 world.
Companies who balk at the time and effort that has to be wasted to listen and to talk to customers this wayjust don’t get it that their cheese is being moved. Change is in the air. Embrace it or go the way of the dinosaur.