Whistleblowing Goes Viral: Amateur Videos Shine A Spotlight on Corporate Ethics

What happens when you combine a disgruntled consumer, a recording device, and a distribution platform? A PR mess and a crack at social justice!

There have been forums online for years now that have acted as sounding boards for customers and employees who felt they’ve been wronged by a corporate monolith (think walmartsucks.org, verizonpathetic.com, allstateinsurancesucks.com), but we seem to be entering the era of video complaints now.

First came David Carroll’s United Breaks Guitars revenge song, posted after United failed to compensate him for the $1,200 in damage done to his Taylor guitar by their baggage handlers. Since July, it’s received over 5.5 million pageviews and 22,000 comments.

Then a few weeks ago came Ann Minch’s Debtors Revolt, a battle cry against credit card companies for the “rape and pillage of middle class Americans”. She’s refusing to pay another red cent to Bank of America on her credit card bills, after her interest rate was arbitrarily jacked up to 30%. (aside: The recently passed Credit CARD Act of 2009 will prevent credit card companies from being allowed to do this anymore come February 2010, when the legislation goes into effect…..but in the meantime it’s still cowboy country for the lending industry). Her rally has earned her a couple hundred thousand pageviews and a handful of video responses.

So what does this all mean?

Well for one, there appears to be a correlation between heavily deregulated industries and exploitation. Check out Demos’ eye-opening research on airline deregulation or one of the many publications about the “gotcha tactics” of credit card companies.

But secondly, it’s an interesting example of how new forms of media are shaping society and culture, and throwing the traditional power structure a little off-kilter. Videos just have the ability to go a lot more viral than your run of the mill text-based venting.

Why?

  1. The internet encourages participatory culture. It’s definitely about sharing, but it’s also about contributing to the conversation. You’ve got moving images or animations, perhaps some music, and a message, and you open up the space for mashups, video responses, and commentaries.
  2. We like visualizations. Messages, ideas, and complex concepts are easier to understand when we can see them.
  3. Text is great for content, but images provide context. We form opinions of who these people are based on how they look and sound, and they become relatable. It helps to tell a better story.

One individual has the potential to be incredibly influential these days. It will be interesting to see if these whistleblowing tactics can actually improve business ethics, or just give the mediamaker their 15 minutes.

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amateur videos scare the man by Venessa Miemis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

Venessa Miemis

Venessa Miemis is pursuing an MA in Media Studies at the New School. You can follow her blog at www.emergentbydesign.com or connect on Twitter @VenessaMiemis