Was This Social Media Campaign Free Speech or Cyber-Bullying?

When a social media campaign forced advertisers to abandon a high profile Australia talkback radio show, some people cried “censorship” and “cyber-bullying” while others said it was just online democracy at play.

The controversy began when right-wing Sydney radio host, Alan Jones, made some highly offensive remarks about Prime Minister Julia Gillard at a political dinner. Unfortunately a journalist at the dinner recorded the whole event and when the story broke Jones found himself the subject of almost universal condemnation.

After a rambling “non-apology” – which Jones used mainly to defend himself and blame others – high profile advertisers and sponsors began withdrawing their support for his program.

But the story took an entirely different turn when a social media campaign was launched to publicly shame other advertisers to withdraw.

On air, Jones complained that he was being unfairly targeted and tried to portray himself as a victim of cyber-bullying, mainly by people who didn’t listen to his program anyway. But he got very little sympathy and, prominent politician Malcolm Turnbull spoke for many people when he said the aggressive “shock jock” was simply getting a bit of what he usually dishes out to others.

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Within days, 70 advertisers had withdrawn and the radio station made the extraordinary announcement that they would suspend advertising altogether during Jones’ daily broadcast.

That’s when the questions began to be asked: The Editor of online marketing newsletter Mumbrella, Tim Burrowes, asked what happens when you deny a living to anybody who expresses opinions we disagree with?

“You’re perfectly entitled to tell brands what you think of their support of a particular show is. That’s your right. When you get organised to do so, you are exerting economic pressure to get him taken off the air. That’s also your right. But let’s be clear: You are trying to force somebody off the air because you don’t like what he has to say. Be sure to admit to yourself that you are acting in favour of censorship.”

By contrast consumer activist Matt Jones sees this as little different from consumers expressing their social preferences through consumption – as many Americans did during the recent Chick-fil-A controversy.

“When people use social media to amplify their voices, accelerating and multiplying the impact of their purchase intentions, is that cyber bullying? Or just consumers seeking to shape the world they live in, not just shop it? I’ve found the online response to Alan Jones’ comments genuinely uplifting. It’s consumers voting (vocally) with their wallets.”

So those are their opinions, now I’d like to hear yours.

Censorship? Cyber bullying? Or free speech? What do you think? Let me know in the comments section below!

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