Question and Answer services and User Review sites have become increasingly popular features of Web 2.0 platforms as users connect with each other by asking or answering questions and posting reviews or services or products they have encountered. While in theory this concept is not a new one, the posting of these things online allows the option of anonymity, making the validity and reliability of content questionable and hard to trace. While in the physical world we can choose to gain opinions, answers and feedback from people we know and trust, we cannot guarantee this in the digital world. Also, instead of being able to judge an individual’s response by way of physical determents, such as body language and tone, their response is reliant on their ability to articulate themselves in writing (Jeon & Rieh, 2014, p.663). Consequently, while it may be useful to gather feedback, answers and reviews at the click of a button online, users are often taking a gamble in doing this, as unless they are able to trace or verify the source, they are relying on feedback from someone completely unknown to them, with motives that are completely unknown.
While these question and answer and review sites provide a certain convenience for users who may be shopping or need a quick answer, we cannot overlook the potentially detrimental affects of the anonymity of these services, as evidenced in the video below, when 12 year old student Rebecca Sedwick committed suicide after she was bullied on popular question and answer sites, Kik and Ask.FM
This may be an extreme example, but it does lead us to question whether the anonymity allowed on such sites makes it easier for people to act without consequences of their actions. This also leads to users being able to give an opinion or review of a person or business out of context, as is seen regularly on social media sites such as Facebook when disgruntled customers post their annoyance, anger or negative opinions on company pages for all users to see.
Even though question and answer and reviews sites are prone to negative feedback, many businesses revel in the free publicity and advertising they gain. Racherla and Friske suggest that online word-of-mouth platforms such as TripAdvisor and Amazon have become the most valuable sources of information for online consumers, as these sites allow them to become fully informed as the product details and social interactions available allow them to become fully informed (2012, p.548). These same authors warn however, that there is still a way to go in terms of the balances and checks put in place on these platforms to ensure that the user is gathering valid information and not experiencing a sense of ‘infowhelm‘ (2012, p.558). Additionally, more recent examples of customers being fined by companies for leaving bad reviews on word-of-mouth platform raise the question of how these sites are monitored and controlled.
Allowing others to control how individuals or businesses are perceived online is definitely a reality of Web 2.0. However, as with any interaction in a digital environment, users must exercise digital etiquette and common digital citizenship practices to ensure that they are discerning in their use of these sites.
Jeon, G. Y., & Rieh, S.U. (2014). Answers form the crowd: How credible are strangers in social Q&A? iConference 2014 Proceedings (p.663 – 668). Retrieved from http://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/handle/2027.42/106410/Jeon_Rieh_iConference2014_answers%20from%20the%20crowd.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
Racherla, P., & Friske, W. (2012). Perceived ‘usefulness’ of online consumer reviews: An exploratory investigation across three service categories. Electronic Commerce Research and Applications, 11(6), 548-559. doi: 10.1016/j.elerap.2012.06.003