Issues management and the social Web - black and white, or shades of gray?

Once again, an imbroglio over a Facebook group raises the question How can organizations best deal with criticism and targeted activism in social networks or social media?

Early last week, Dalhousie University in Halifax asked Facebook to remove a group called “Stop Dogs and Puppies from being murdered at Dalhousie University" created by Amy Scott claiming it was defamatory, factually incorrect and therefore counter to Facebook's Terms of Service.

It will come as no surprise, however, that the group is back online and with membership in the neighbourhood of 21,000. Dalhousie's precipitous legal action, no matter how justified, also meant that the whole mess has become a media story. And according to news reports this morning, Dalhousie is still conferring with counsel about next steps even though its previous legal approach created arguably more reputation damage than the existence of the Facebook group itself.

Here are a few alternatives:

  1. Ignore the group and it will likely go the way of many other Facebook communities; that is, a rapid descent into boring obscurity.
  2. Set up a counter group on Facebook to discuss and debate openly appropriate limits on research.
  3. Offer the group's creator the opportunity to meet with some senior official to review her concerns and to determine what might satisfy her that the university is indeed telling the truth when it insists there have been no dogs or cats used in research at the university in ten years.
  4. Ignore the group . . . again. As Dalhousie staffer, Ryan McNutt, recognizes in his blog about the problems with Facebook groups many of us who engage in these networks understand there are often serious limits to the so-called "wisdom" of crowds.

And remember, organizations should always think cautiously about pursuing legal remedies: Social networks react quickly and angrily against what they perceive as anti-democratic actions by institutions.


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