The surge in popularity of digital media in all of its rapidly developing forms has been one of the greatest innovations on every possible level of communication in the history of mankind.
It has allowed mass media to hold conversations with consumers, businesses to hold conversations with individual customers and allowed the average Joe to be able to converse, complain, praise and keep brands, products, services as well as politicians on their toes.
One could argue that blogs, tweets and myriad other social networking has started to make brands and businesses a lot more honest. And in a way they have.
But unfortunately, there is always a downside to every great innovation.
And the dark side of the digital world is that industries and individual companies with hidden agendas are using the interweb to manipulate and destroy competitors with quite vicious intent.
In the past year or so that I have been looking closely at the digital media phenomenon, I have come across any number of situations that cannot be explained in any other way than industrial espionage and plain, straightforward sabotage.
I have seen industries and individual companies within those industries, usually the most successful companies and fastest growing industries, being singled out by what appear to be websites and bloggers dedicated to protecting consumers.
I am not talking about all blog and websites – the majority are doing an outstanding job of keeping profiteers and opportunists on the straight and narrow.
But, there are some that worry me a lot. These are the bloggers and websites that seem to have a grudge against specific industries and individual companies for no reason whatsoever.
I keep asking myself why they are so single-minded? Why are they so incredibly aggressive? Why are they so passionate about what they see as the iniquities of one company yet have nothing to say of the real iniquities of society, such as crime, bent politicians and tenderpreneurs? And just where they get their funding to be able to carry out these time-consuming campaigns?
The only conclusion I can reach is that they are either funded by or being manipulated by businesses or industries intent on destroying their competitors and anything that threatens their status quo.
The signs are all fairly plain. They will complain bitterly and attack a particular product but not another that does the same sort of thing.
They are people who never respond to counter-arguments and who don’t allow contrary opinions to be expressed on their websites.
It is a dark and devious world. It is something that sounds as though it belongs in the domain of conspiracy theorists.
But, as far as I can see it is real. There are just too many irrational elements at play that mitigate against them being dismissed as a conspiracy theory.
The problem if course, is that unlike conventional media such as radio, TV, magazines and newspapers where it is quite easy to determine ownership, shareholder influence and agendas – the interweb is a dark and shady place.
It is almost impossible to find out just who owns web and blog sites and even more difficult to find the source funding and indeed just how many of these crusaders and activists are finding not only the time but the money to devote so much energy to their singled-minded quest to destroy industries, brands and products.
It is a shame in my opinion, that most if our mass media today do not have the resources to indulge in some good old-fashioned investigative journalism.
Because this phenomenon is growing. It is rife in South Africa but not only happening in South Africa – it is global. And I have no doubt that many of these nefarious activities in South Africa are fuelled by global agendas.
As competition increases so will these campaigns increase. By companies and industries that feel they cannot compete honestly and have to resort to dirty tricks.
While I am completely against the government’s plans to restrict media and information, I certainly would not be averse to legislation that obliges anyone who owns or operates a website or blog, to disclose ownership and funding.
After all, every other sort of business has to do this by law.
It is a question of levelling the playing fields and not allowing a secret and devious minority to call the shots and proclaim themselves custodians of the rest of us. On a practical note, it is terrifying when one starts to count the cost to business and brands having to defend themselves against clandestine activism. It runs into billions of Rands and of course this is all passed on to the consumer.
Follow Chris Moerdyk on Twitter @chrismoerdyk