Search marketers can enrage diehard members of social communities who want to keep marketers at bay. The result? Death threats, cyberterrorism, obscene language, cyberharassment, and calls for suicide.
Social media marketers see StumbleUpon and social networking sites like Facebook as theirs to mine for traffic, links, and sales. A just-released Sapient study shows marketers plan to increase spending on social media marketing this year, where they anticipate higher ROI than both digital advertising and email marketing (see chart).
A covert war is raging between search marketers engaged in social media optimization and long-time members of social networks that could spoil everyone's plans. The impact goes beyond search marketers engaged in SMM. If not resolved, the vicious attacks could spread to corporate brands testing the waters of social media marketing.
On popular eBay-owned social bookmarking and networking site StumbleUpon, I've received death threats and calls for suicide. StumbleUpon death threats may not be dangerous. Perhaps they're no more "real" than the death threats exchanged by "griefers" and "goons" with participants in Second Life and online gaming, as described by Julian Dibbell in Wired this month.
There's no doubt, though, that Second Life holds no appeal for brand marketers who don't want to risk virtual world attacks of flying phalluses. The question is why eBay allows death threats in StumbleUpon.
eBay condones anti-social user behavior by not enforcing obvious violations in the StumbleUpon Terms of Service (TOS). StumbleUpon moderators appear largely ineffectual in preventing death threats or policing members. Death threats against bloggers aren't new. They've been investigated by the Feds.
So I turned to the Minneapolis field office of the FBI.
First, let me tell you how it all began. My first big mistake: posting to a search marketing blog about how much I love StumbleUpon. Friends soon pointed out that long-time members of StumbleUpon were publicly calling for my suicide by methods I choose not to republish here. The feeling was reminiscent of historic book burnings because of violent and Nazi-laced symbolism and hyperbolic rhetoric.
Turns out that bands of longtime-member roving thugs, angry that search marketers have diluted the StumbleUpon content pool (which is true), leave violent and obscene public reviews in droves. SU is slow to react, if at all. After chronicling the experience in several StumbleUpon blog posts, the attacks on my public SU profile increased (must be logged into SU to view). Moderators stepped in and booted a single user for an unrelated TOS violation.
Then all hell broke loose.
Not For the Faint of Heart.
I started receiving more obscene online attacks in StumbleUpon: expressions of hatred and threats of physical harm.
I talked to the Minneapolis FBI Field office about the legality of cyber-harassment SU seems to allow users, nearly always with minimal moderation. Internet harassment is a crime. The field agent took my report, the URLs, and said little can be done when offenders violate United States laws from Warsaw, Poland, which the most egregious attacker listed as his home.
StumbleUpon's TOS reserves the right to remove content which, at their “sole discretion” is “threatening, libelous, defamatory, obscene or otherwise objectionable” and subjects violators with “termination.” Prohibited content is defined as “(i) is offensive or promotes racism, bigotry, hatred or physical harm of any kind; (ii) harasses or advocates harassment of another person.”
What actually goes on in the unmentionable corners reflects very badly on eBay, proud owner of the StumbleUpon cesspool. The FBI suggested I contact the moderator of the community at issue and question the TOS and moderator rules.
The thugs post known violations just long enough for their hateful purposes, then backtrack and remove the most damning "evidence" before SU admin gets around to assessing the complaints.
Visit “Justice Reigns: Stumble Troll BANNED by SU, “and follow all the links while logged into SU. They reveal a glimpse of the nastiest seamy underbelly of any social community on earth.
It is true, some social media marketers "game" the system with automated hacks to tilt the table for their clients' profit. Then some StumbleUpon users shout in public for the death of all search marketers, indicating the greater problem.
Social search marketers must ask themselves, "Do I really care about the effect our infiltration has on social communities?" Social site users must not over generalize. Many marketers are fine people who participate whole heartedly to the community's benefit.
There's a war. There needs to be a truce.
My social media conscience, Tamar Weinberg, has taught me that “wisdom of the mob” is community ethic to the point where tinkering (let alone gaming) social sites is downright sacrilegious. Sure, everybody knows that Facebook, MySpace, StumbleUpon, and LinkedIn are there for Internet marketers to harvest to their clients advantage. Marketers have been infiltrating wherever and whenever folks congregate to disseminate marketing messages forever. It's called PR.
That said, literally the only pathway to success and longevity in social media is to actually participate and bring value to the community. That type of holistic commitment is why a person's “recommendations” in social media can come to matter so much.
If the problem continues then many people will leave. eBay might be left holding a $75 million investment with limited value to big brands. That would make many folks like me sad. We've loved and contributed to StumbleUpon for months and years.
eBay, your customers and the world are watching. It's time to clean up your social club.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!