Cameron has a point: negative coverage for social media can prove disastrous

Users have woken up to the power of the boycott. These sites may be free to use, but if they lose users, they will also lose advertising revenue


In all the sound and fury which has followed the suicide of Hannah Smith, David Cameron has lighted upon a necessary truth. However much we deplore the behaviour of those who tell a child that the world would be a better place without her, we can’t stop anyone from being poisonous. Close down one website and another – similarly unmoderated – will soon spring up in its place. You can take legal steps against those who threaten life and safety but you can’t legislate against spite. What you can do is boycott.

Social media users have woken up to the fact that they have more power as consumers than they they realised. These sites are free to use because their owners are raking in advertising revenue. The users may not pay, but they draw in the advertisers who do. Lose users, and you will lose advertisers, which is why many, including the comedian Sarah Millican, boycotted Twitter last weekend: a collective muscle flex to suggest they might go elsewhere. And, as this week has proved, run a website where children are bullied relentlessly and you may lose advertisers, whether the users stick around or not.

The Sun, Specsavers, Vodafone and (appropriately) the charities, Mind and Save The Children, have all moved to withdraw advertising from How could they do anything else? The Sun described as a “suicide site” earlier this week: it could hardly then continue to send it a hefty advertising cheque each month.

We have got used to the idea that, as people, there’s not much we can do to change the behaviour of big organisations. We moan about rising prices or crappy service but little gets done. In my experience, the fastest way to persuade a company to pull itself together is to call the press office. Where numberless customer service assistants can or will do nothing whatsoever to help you, the press office knows the value of negative coverage and they tend to act accordingly.

And now the social media sites are learning the same difficult lesson. Allowing bullying to go unchecked on any given site has been the easiest option for years. Hiring moderators is expensive and difficult – how do you moderate millions of users in dozens of languages, 24 hours a day? No matter how vociferous the complaints about the consequences of doing nothing, little if anything has changed.

But money talks very much louder than words. No company wants their brand to be associated with bitching, bullying and viciousness. The internet is limitless: there are myriad other sites where they can place their ads which won’t link them to all those tragic headlines. It doesn’t need a marketing guru to suggest that the money will migrate to sites which draw in users without throwing them to the wolves.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Health & Safety Consultant

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic and exciting opport...

Recruitment Genius: Project and Quality Manager

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is an independent ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Executive - OTE £20,625

£14625 - £20625 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This role is for an enthusiasti...

Guru Careers: Financial Controller

£45 - £55k DOE: Guru Careers: A Financial Controller is required to join a suc...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Walt Palmer (left), from Minnesota, who killed Cecil, the Zimbabwean lion  

Walter Palmer killed Cecil the Lion with a bow to show off – and now he's discovering what it's like to be hunted

Louis Theroux
Britain's Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, arrives with his son Prince George at the Lindo Wing to visit his wife and newborn daughter at St. Mary's Hospital in Paddington, west London, Britain, 02 May 2015  

Prince George's £18,000 birthday gift speaks volumes about Britain's widening wealth inequality

Olivia Acland
Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'