Free speech. We all think it’s our God-given right, but are we exploiting it? Twitter, Facebook, blogs and reviews all give the consumer a perfect platform to play the critic.

Sure, sometimes our complaints are completely justified; the coffee shop round the corner really shouldn’t have served us that cold coffee and stale cake, but sometimes our grievances are because we’ve set our standards too high and then we turn to social media to vent our anger which is arguably unjustified.

Consumers are demanding greater quality for lower prices. This is fair enough within production, where costs can be cut simply by improving efficiency. But within the service industries, the expected quality should correlate to the price the consumer is paying.

I watched a programme (The Attack of the Trip Advisors) on Channel 4 recently where a business owner felt forced to sell her family run B&B due to the stress caused by visitors’ reviews on Trip Advisor. 

Although the points in the reviews were often factually correct, many seemed more petty and vindictive, rather than helpful and balanced information for a review.

One of the business owners on the programme stressed that Trip Advisor is not being used in the way it was intended, but has instead become a place to scrutinise travel experiences and say things you wouldn’t dare to say to the persons’ face. 

The result is detrimental. A vent of anger about water having been left in the kettle, or the curtains not blocking out enough light, when read by a fellow Trip Advisor user can deter themfrom visiting that accommodation. Consumers are demanding a luxury package, but at B&B prices, and they’re not afraid to announce it to the world when these demands aren’t matched. This seems a little unfair on the business owner.

Trip Advisor is full of vicious remarks and personal attacks directed at business owners. Is this actually just a new form of bullying? Furthermore, who’s responsible? Trip Advisor for providing the platform and allowing these posts? Or the reviewer themselves who argues that the business owner is irrelevant when they write the review as it’s not about friendship; it’s about business.

Business owners are bearing the brunt of our online moaning. Once we post something on social media there’s no going back. It may not even be factually true, it may even be written by a competitor as an unlawful dig.

The post is now there for others to see, believe and formulate their now biased opinion on. They may even decide to comment, ‘like’ and perhaps ‘retweet’ the post, kindly helping to escalate the falsity. 

Even if the review is true, social media platforms don’t allow for a ‘sentence time’. If one commits a crime, they serve their time in jail, but once the sentence is complete, they are released back into society and given a second chance. When a review commenting on the dirty sheets or unsatisfactory food is posted online, it’s there for life. Even five years on, other site users may see the review and it may sway their opinion of the business.

So here’s the real question; is there a dark side to social media? Can we ever be sure that what we are reading is factually correct and that it is being posted by a genuine reviewer, rather than a conniving competitor?

As a user of these sites we may not care about the validity of comments, as it is easy to just approach an alternative business. Unfortunately when the posts or reviews deter customers, the business owners’ livelihoods are affected.

Do these social media platforms give consumers too much control in the on-going power struggle between reviewers and businesses?