The BBC has been pioneering the use of the Internet for several years. It has invested huge amounts of cash in its new media strategy and is seen as having real leadership position for the way it has incorporated the Internet into what was a rather fuddy-duddy organisation.

Now, though, it has started openly censoring user contributions to its web site. The Radio 2 presenter Sarah Kennedy has made several gaffes on-air, some of which have drawn public criticism. Audience members had made their feelings known on the BBC web site; but not any longer. The BBC has now announced that user contributions about Sarah Kennedy are banned.

At first sight this appears to make sense. After all, you would want to protect your employee and your investment in them. You might think that the negative views are minority positions anyway and so they shouldn’t be given an unfair hearing. There again, if you were the BBC, you might not want your own web site to contain negative material about your organisation.

It’s a new world online
Welcome to the new world BBC. We are going to have to live in a world where we do carry negative material about ourselves and our businesses on our own web sites. Audiences expect it; no longer is the biased, one-sided, overtly “promotional” view of a company or organisation acceptable. People now expect honesty and openness. Censoring the views of your audience is red rag to a bull, these days.

If the BBC had thought for a second they may have realised that online it is not possible to censor views. You might ban them from your own web site – upsetting your audience in the process – but you can’t make those views go away. There are already a couple of anti-Sarah Kennedy groups on Facebook and a search amongst blogs finds a huge array of negative criticism of her – not much positive.

In the past we could have “buried” such negativity. People may have written and complained or phoned in with their criticisms, but the “public” would never have known. Organisations and companies have been able to sweep under the carpet all the negativity about their business for centuries.

Not any more. Even if you ban such negativity from your web site, it will surface and be made very public, very quickly. Businesses will avoid that situation if they accept negativity on their own web site. Transparency is the new order of the day – online you avoid that at your peril.

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