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Friday, August 5, 2011

Smart Social Media Monitoring or Government Censorship?

 by Eric Melin on August 2, 2011

Details of a new government contract with the a major Japanese advertising company have caused some in Japan to speculate whether the government is involved in censorship.

What it really boils down to, though, is a case of not understanding what web monitoring is at a very basic level. We see this kind of attitude on the web every now and then, and maybe seeing this today makes now a good time to clarify some things about web and social media listening.

The Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant accident following the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011 is the largest of the 2011 Japanese nuclear accidents and some say its the largest nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

According to Japan Today, Japan’s Agency for Natural Resources and Energy says that its Nuclear Power Safety Regulation Publicity Project would have ad agency Asatsu DK “monitor blogs on nuclear power and radiation issues as well as Twitter accounts around the clock.” Since the March 2011 earthquakes damaged the Fukushima Daiichi plant, the web has been swirling with information, and much of it according to the government, is inaccurate.

Any PR person will tell you that staying on top of a crisis is essential, and what better way to do that than by web and social media monitoring? Already they are playing catch-up, so that’s a huge disadvantage. But the idea is that once this online research about what people are saying about the power plant on the Internet is done, the ANRE would “publish correct information in question-and-answer format on the agency’s website and Twitter account, after consulting with experts and engineers if necessary.”

So far, so good. They’ll see what people are saying and counter rampant misinformation by publishing an FAQ. It’s not terribly creative, and they should have been open and transparent about things since the beginning of the crisis, but at least they’ll have a set of online answers to the biggest questions/rumors out there.

Remember, all of the information that tools like Spiral16 gather from the web is publicly available. What we do is not “Big Brother.” We don’t violate website’s terms of use and can only discover what is made public.
This is the portion of the article that really has people calling it censorship, however:
The contractor would be asked to “conduct research and analysis on incorrect and inappropriate information that would lead to false rumors and to report such Internet accounts to the agency.”

Web monitoring only gathers publicly available online information.

Yikes. The issue now seems to be: What will the government do with that information? I don’t think they will try to track down IP addresses, but any PR person will tell you that, in some cases, you should counteract misinformation where it resides. In that way, identifying the relevant sites, posts, and authors is key.
The article also doesn’t say anything about a government effort to remove negative posts or anything like that. In fact, according to
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry told the AFP that the government would “never ask internet providers or web masters to delete such information or pin down the senders,” but that they would simply use their own website and Twitter account to publish the accurate information.
If that’s true, it’s hardly censorship. End of story. The data we collect for our clients is theirs. It informs their marketing plans, social strategy, and gives them quantifiable results that they can use.
The Japanese government is way behind on this, but at least they are making an effort to listen and respond. As long as the government is not deleting or “cleaning” the negative online mentions, they are not censoring anything.

If you are not monitoring for your company, you are missing out on a whole wealth of relevant online data that can be mined for marketing uses, product development, competitive intelligence, and PR insight.

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