It is very easy to see why internet bulletin boards and message boards are so popular. The main reason is easy access for anyone with a computer. This is also the main reason why they should be taken with a grain of salt. The anonymity of this avenue of communication adds fuel to the fire. The fact that anyone in any part of the world can register under any alias they choose and be anyone they want is potentially dangerous. This is not to say that there are not “real” people posting and giving feedback that is well intended. What is important to recognize is that “not everything is always as it seems” and this is never more apparent than on these internet sites. There seems to be an acceptance of credibility of the written word over the spoken word.
As a contractor who was performing estimates and proposals to clients I often felt that the potential customer thought of me as someone who was “trying to get them” in some way. There is a negative perception of contractors that is a given in today’s society. With this in mind I took many of the points I would try to make in my proposal and put them in writing and on company letterhead. What happened is that after I left, the customer would read all the documents and believe what I had written more than if I had simply stated the same information as part of my proposal. This same logic transcends to internet message boards as well. The readers of these boards often are taken in by the information and accept much of the postings and information as valid and true. This is where the danger lies. Many of these boards are public and once you have typed a post or response and hit “enter” on your keyboard it is live for everyone to see for eternity.
The first problem with this is the unsuspecting user who upon logging on to the internet performs a search on a particular field or profession. Very often because of the amount of information that is compiled on these sites they appear high on the list of searches. The user then logs on to the site to find out as much information as possible. For example, if they were to enter a trade or profession type site that has many forums of information immediately at their fingertips to research.
Once inside the site they can find enormous amounts of information that the rest of the general population can also access and contribute too. Very often, without knowing, the user takes in the information, studies it, digests it, and accepts the information as true without even knowing who or where the source for the information originated from. This is where many innocent people can get taken advantage of. Suppose you are a person who is considering starting your own business and enter one of these sites to get information and are considering using your savings to invest. Why would you take advice from people you can not identify with or even know their identity?
Going further, suppose you merely needed advice, again why would you seek advice from anonymous sources? With all the outlets to get sound advice from why are people relying on information received through anonymous posts made by people who can pretend to be anybody they want? There once was a fellow who used an identity as a contractor who gave advice on how-to’s. The way he would get answers was to search the internet for answers by others and then post them as his own! It is sad to say that this person had nothing better to do but to him this was a hobby or source of entertainment. What is dangerous is that there were folks who bought into his responses and acted on his replies. Now imagine the impact that this person had on an unsuspecting user who was influenced by this “knucklehead.” Caution should be exercised before believing everything you read on the internet. While the internet can be such a valuable tool it can also be an extremely dangerous tool.
The next part that puzzles me is why people would seek advice and counsel from those they have never met or know really anything about. If this were a doctor you would want to have heard references, if it were a contractor you would request references, if it were a product you would want testimonials and reviews. So why do people continue to believe what they read on these sites at face value? From my experience, the most successful people rarely contribute to these sites because they are actually too busy with their businesses to spend hours replying to posts that rarely make them any money, if any at all. It seems to become a hobby to the folks who participate day after day. I am sure somewhere they are developing a 12-step program for internet pretenders and posters.
The reason most of these people have time is for many reasons that may include, no job or a part-time job, not happy with family situation, a want to belong to something, it is free, and many more that basically fills a void for the individual. If I am the person considering entering a field to invest my monies I want to know who is giving the advice and are they successful. Why would you want advice from an anonymous source that isn’t successful? Why would you think of chasing a dream of owning your own business and then seeking the advice of a part-timer who can’t even make a go of it full time? You shouldn’t, yet everyday I see this happening all over the internet. We have given a power to these anonymous people that they should not have as they could destroy lives with their misinformation. While there is unbelievable amounts of beneficial information on the internet there is also much misinformation that can potentially be damaging.
Another item that is negative about these sites is the culture that exists. Because people are not face-to-face and are typing responses instead they seem to say things they would not dare in person. When someone has too much alcohol to drink they are often referred to as having “beer muscles” in comparison it seems because no one is immediately in front of the person typing they get “internet muscles” and form am arrogance to make statements they otherwise would not. What is disturbing about these folks is that their ignorance and poor conduct becomes representative of the group as whole. An example of this would be if two people were to disagree about a certain topic and instead of a good hearted debate and dialogue they began to degrade each other and possibly start name-calling and swearing. Now the person who is performing the search stumbles on this behavior they may perceive that this is the norm for this profession or group, thus putting a very negative spin on that profession. This can cause more damage to the reputation of groups of professionals that are working everyday towards credibility and acceptance than people realize.
The last disturbing item is that many people use these sites for cheap leads and advertising. Because they are free to post on many “flea-market” vendors enter these sites and will give a perception that they are a company that they may not be. For example, I know of one vendor who has a line of product that he sells from a family home. He does not own a car and travels his town in a golf cart! He enter these sites to pedal his wares to unsuspecting people who take him at face value and believe he has a lab, warehouse, and business that is a multi-million dollar company. The truth is that he really lives on a shoestring and often needs to collect money up front to be able to manufacture the orders placed thus causing supply and distribution problems to the unsuspecting public. Without the internet this person would not even own a business however, with the internet you can create a new identity all the time. The problem is that the internet breeds this type of behavior and culture.
At the end of the day I know that the internet has made my life and many others easier and more productive. It is a shame that these bulletin boards can not be truly used, 100% as a tool to give and get true information to better ourselves and our businesses. It is because I am skeptical about all things and do not have habits that cause me to believe everything I see, hear, and read that keep me grounded. This is not so with everyone and just like in society there are those out there who look to take advantage of and prey on the weak and innocent without a care as to who they hurt. We see on the news more often how the internet has effected many lives in a negative way, we should all use caution when surfing the internet and participating on bulletin boards and message boards with decisions that may impact our lives!