Qantas caught up in Facebook controversy over bigoted comments

Qantas has been involved in another social media controversy, with users on its Facebook page hurling racial and religious abuse over the company’s decision to remove pork from in-flight menus on flights which stopover in Dubai.

While some comments have been deleted, others containing racial insults are still on the page days after they were first placed.

One user says the airline is “sleeping with the Islamic enemy” and another commenter says “you sold out to terrorist backers to [sic] are killing Aussie diggers”.

Since these comments started appearing on the Facebook page, a Tumblr blog has been set up which has a chronology of some of the comments.

SmartCompany contacted Qantas, but a spokesperson refused to directly answer questions about the airline’s social media policy or the racial abuse which had been posted on the page. Instead, the spokesperson said there had been positive feedback about the change.

“Qantas in-flight catering reflects the cultural and regional influences of the international destinations that we fly to. Our customers tell us that one of the things that sets Qantas apart from other airlines is our high quality in-flight meals.

“Feedback from customers who have flown on Qantas to and from Dubai and experienced the in-flight meals has been excellent,” a spokesperson said.

Founder of social media consultancy company Dialogue Consulting, Huge Stephens, toldSmartCompany corporations such as Qantas should be aware of external factors which can cause a negative reaction on social media.

“Qantas is in a very challenging position,” he says

“It’s a very good example of the fact that no matter how much we work to build positive communities online, there are these external factors which can come in and bring a landslide of negative behaviour.

“A lot of the stuff which is up there which is blatantly inappropriate needs to be taken down,” he says.

Stephens says companies in this situation should delete the inappropriate comments, but be transparent in their actions and explain why comments are being deleted.

“There are also the users who deal with things being deleted, some say Qantas is trying to quiet down the criticism, but this probably isn’t the case, it’s likely it is inappropriate content.

“If you are going to delete something, be transparent about it and say why. If you’re deleting comments which are defamatory or abusive, put up a statement explaining why and say it’s for the best of the community,” Stephens says.

By addressing the complaints, Stephens says users will understand why comments are disappearing and generate a more positive perception of the company.

“It helps them to realise the company is caring about their wellbeing and that of the Facebook community. There is a role for debate, but those sorts of comments are not helping anyone,” Stephens says.

In Qantas’ situation, Stephens says pre-moderating comments may be the best option.

Some Facebook users have been complaining their comments have been deleted by Qantas, but so far it appears Qantas has not responded to the Facebook users on its page to explain why the comments are being deleted.

Stephens says it’s a “lose-lose” situation for Qantas, but companies need to be able to plan for these reactions.

“There is nothing they can do to stop these comments occurring. But they need to be actively moderating, responding where appropriate and correcting inaccuracies,” he says.

Last year, the Advertising Standards Board ruled comments and other user-generated content appearing on a business’ Facebook fan page were ads for the purpose of advertising regulations and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission indicated a similar approach would be adopted when applying consumer law.

In a case against the fan pages of Victoria Bitter, the ASB determined the advertisers who operated the fan pages were responsible for the comments of the fans and other users.

The ASB ruled comments on the VB fan page promoted sexism, racism and other forms of discrimination and were in breach of advertising standards.

 

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