Trial by Social Media

I personally do not believe in “Trial by Social Media” when it comes to individuals but what about about companies and products? When consumers don’t get what they expect from a supplier and they get no relief from either the supplier or the Govt. agencies purportedly set up to help consumers, then the first place we go is online… to social media, to forums, etc etc.

I’m sure every one of us has done just that and, upon searching, found that others have experienced the same problem. For example, my VW sunroof was leaking, I did a search and hundreds of other people around the world were having exactly the same problem… VW denies it. I can say the same about computers, telecom companies etc etc.

All of these people taking the time to discuss their problems with products (like we do here) are effected but must individually act due to the system of law. Sure, we could do class actions but they are both very expensive and incredibly time consuming.

I believe Govt. departments and organisations set up to “protect” consumers should, when they receive a complaint, do a web search on that particular company or product and proactively contact people who have complained via social media / forums etc. Witness and victim accounts will only make their case stronger.
If anyone else has ideas on how we could integrate a web of complaints to actual action, I’d be most interested in hearing them.


My concern with crowd-sourcing views on companies and products is the lack of verification. You can see this on various product review sites as well as social media where bunches of either very positive or very negative reviews turn up with no detail or reason. In some cases you can see the same turn of phrase from supposedly different posters. When it comes to unverified polling sock-puppets and bots vote early and vote often.

Anonymity on the internet is both a strength and a weakness. When I look at the rotten things people say to each other electronically (that would never happen unless they were anonymous) I have to think the dark forces are winning at the moment. Sadly too many of us give in to temptation when there is little or no chance of being held to account for our words. Social media in particular is a very immature business model that has yet to come to grips with social responsibility.


I agree but as with life we learn to discern… I’m not talking about “Like” or star based review sites as they can easily be trolled and rigged but I find most people who are complaining about a product, service or company tend to be pretty elaborate with their explanation.


The issues surrounding crowd-sourced reviews are well understood with the various platform companies. There’s a lot of active research into ways of filtering the obvious purchased reviews (see articles in the last 6 months about Amazon trying to clear it). There’s not too much out there right now that I’m aware of, but that’s not to say companies like ProductReview and Amazon aren’t putting efforts in to try to get better quality reviews. If you feel like being geeky, then searching on topics like Sock Puppets in the W3C papers will bring up dozens of public papers.


Just so I’m being clear, I would never suggest we Sentence by Social Media… that would be silly.
Sock Puppetry is a problem for reviews etc but most people who have actually had a problem with a service and/or product tend to have a decent amount of evidence… If they have taken the time to go onto forums and social media about these issues, they are both publicly stating something and are contactable.
If these people were given the opportunity to present their evidence in the matter then with enough complaints backed with evidence, a decision could then be made… say by the courts if the company(s) in question have broken Australia’s consumer laws.
BTW, the Sock Puppet search was hilarious… took me back :wink:


I do not know if this translates from the US to Australia, but:

'Complaints about company are fake news started by Moose and Squirrel’-- Boris and Natasha.

If not, more than you ever wanted to know.

Would being elaborate have more credibility than a short and succinct statement of fact? Why? Do most people post gripes behind an avatar or pseudonym and why is that so? How do privacy laws intersect with crowd participation in a legal process?

Who pays costs and how is representation brought into this? No opportunity for the defence to cross examine the accusers?

Methinks you have not thought deeply enough about due process, the veracity of ‘facts’ and ‘alternative facts’ and evidence based decision making, and may confuse or at least interweave it with hearsay and opinion.

All that being written, if you could put together a text covering all those aspects (and the ones I probably missed) that would withstand legal scrutiny as well as providing natural justice you may be on to an idea.


In some respects, isn’t this what this forum is?

I suppose the difference may be that usually the posts are based on fact and not opinion/advertorials. There are also many who use this forum who also monitor posts to ensure that its Terms of Service are adhered to as well. There is also the opportunity for others to contribute to flesh out and also get to the bottom of the problem…as well as providing advice on how to resolve an issue that may come to hand.

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Think of it more of an investigation rather than a trial then.

It does not abuse anyones privacy as it’s up to each person as to whether or not they want to participate.

Govt departments or organisations set up to protect consumers would pay… they pay anyway and are pretty ineffective… put the money to better use.

Of course, why wouldn’t there be… If the complaints are legit and the people complaining want to participate and be heard, then the normal rules of court would apply.

Really, this is something that should open discussion, not close it. Individuals lose their rights against the big boys by being separated from others, a dystopian David & Goliath tale… try and stand alone against a corporation in the courts… very difficult without very deep pockets.


Absolutely… and probably one of the reasons why we’re all here :slight_smile:

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Hey Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of a hat!

I am happy to criticise companies online for not doing The Right Thing, and actually do it fairly regularly - whether here or in some other forum (such as Twitter). There are also campaign websites that will run petitions against , and these sometimes claim credit for changes to company policies (e.g. ethical investment).

Unfortunately, these campaign websites are often not patrolled particularly well. I have divorced from them after having seen one too many campaigns about “this paedophile has been released from jail after serving their lawful term and should be locked up again!” on

We all have the opportunity to complain about companies, but we also have certain obligations regarding ensuring our complaints are reasonable. If you make unsubstantiated complaints that hurt a company’s reputation, that company has every right to pursue you in a court of law - as McDonald’s did in England against environmental protesters (the protesters won in that case; McDonald’s was being bodgy).

Volkswagen at the moment is in very big trouble - not just for leaky sunroofs, but for attempting to deceive regulators about vehicle emissions. The investigation has grown to encompass Mercedes Benz as well, and I suggest that you should keep an eye out in case your particular vehicle is involved in any class action or government-ordered payout. Similarly, you have every right to complain loudly and publicly about a leaky sunroof, and if you can find a group of like-minded consumers with the same problem you may find strength in numbers. This isn’t necessarily trial by social media, but rather the bringing to account of multinational corporations by their dissatisfied consumers. That’s a good thing, to my thinking.

What rate of taxes do you want to pay? I am sure that in some instances this happens - but agencies like the ACCC are not funded enough to do even the basics of their enforcement role, and this kind of additional work just cannot be done under current tax levels.

If you are seeking ‘concerted action’, then I would say that Choice does fulfil that role in many ways. If you want to take a different path, then perhaps someone like can help? Even writing to your local paper brings attention to issues - consumers today have more power than they ever possessed in the past, and more options for exercising that power.


Strange you should automatically assume the tax payer should be burdened additionally with this. If ACCC etc actually had enough information to win cases against companies complained about then the fines should easily cover the costs.

I’m not convinced… We “appear” to have more power but all we really have is the internet providing a broader opportunity to voice opinions… this does not necessarily equate to results. As consumers we take unpaid time to chase our “rights” and if we get a foothold then we need to both pay exorbitant rates for legal as well as take the unpaid time in order to have our rights deliberated on. Go up against a two bit company, they fold, you get nothing… go up against a multi-national, you get bled dry on legal costs, you get nothing.

I ask this next question to Choice Staff… Do the ACCC or Fair trade or any Government body in charge of consumer rights ever initiate contact with you over any complaint they have received that has been discussed through Choice?

And you immediately get back to the problem of regulatory capture. Companies would demand to be involved in the regulator, because they would be funding it - and there is an old phrase ‘No taxation without representation’.

I agree with you that companies should pay the cost of infringing - and that the fine should be greater than any profit made by the infringement - but I don’t know the best way to structure the regulatory body. I don’t think there is an easy answer that guarantees the rights of consumers, in our current society (i.e. one that holds all other values as hostage to money and its acquisition).

Hi @maxim, It happens from time to time, more or less. We may be requested for a meeting on a given issue, and we do our best to work with a range of various bodies (both government, peak bodies and other NGOs) to work on the best outcomes for our members and consumers in general. We also have special provisions to raise a ‘super complaint’ with the ACCC when a problem becomes particularly bad, as we have done with the airline industry in the past.


Yep I have in the past made reference to the lack of “encouragement” shall we say for business to be “caring”. Until the penalty/encouragement is severe enough that no one in their right mind would ignore it, the fine/cost is just seen as a cost of doing business as usual. An example would be the Nurofen debacle.


Thanks Brendan, that is very good to hear… what does the ACCC consider “particularly bad”?


… something they have neither a big enough carpet nor a big enough broom to handle through their normal procedures :wink:


It’s when we notice things like companies breaking the law on a large scale, things that causing a large number of consumer significant detriment and so on.