Sue Lovell of SNOB – Susan Nichols Opulent Bride – in March, Cambs – is also the founder of trade association BrideCo. Here she looks at the dangers of ‘trolling’ – which is illegal – and asks forum administrators to stop online harrassment
In the current climate, shop owners are finding themselves under huge financial pressures just to keep the doors open, and the effect on their mental health is enormous. I have spoken to women on the brink of suicide, and have also heard of a case where an owner did actually take her own life. The pressure and the worry over ‘failure’ is intense, and the fear of judgement from others overwhelming.
One of the main issues that I am seriously concerned with, and I am trying to raise awareness of, is the Malicious Communication Act 1988 and the Communications Act 2003. This is particularly relevant with how bridal retailers react when a shop
We all expect that social media will ignite with angry brides once a closure is announced, but I have been horrified as to how some bridal shop owners have reacted over a recent closure, and I have seen the impact that false rumours, lies and horrible personal attacks on forums, have on a business owner, who is already under huge pressure.
I have heard from some owners, that they are angry when a shop does fail, because it damages the bridal industry, and erodes customer confidence on the high street. That is understandable, but when those same owners have no qualms about publicly attacking, and sharing false information online, that is when the reputation of this industry really does suffer. On bridal forums and chat rooms, a witch hunt can take place, with women in business publicly attacking other women in business. The admin on these groups have a duty of care to all members to moderate what is said but some sadly fail in that duty.
This reflects horribly on the industry, and should have no place in today’s online social networks and communities. Being a ‘closed group’ does not give you immunity against prosecution.
Rather than empathy and an understanding that many businesses are struggling, and have to make the very hard decision to close, some women will choose to judge and attack. A closure isn’t an option that any of us want to consider, we all hope that next month will be better.
But if the time comes, that decision is made not only after months of worry but also months of hoping that next week will see sales rise, and fortunes turn. All this, only to finally come to the realisation that all the hard work, the hours on social media sharing and advertising, the super human effort they have put in, has ultimately not paid off, and it is devastating.
At times like that we look for support and guidance, but often feel that we must remain isolated as fear of how others will use that information and try to add fuel the fire, in many cases deflecting from their own troubles, by focusing on someone else’s.
There are some traders out there who may well be heading into closure with malicious intent, and knowing that they are taking money without being able to fulfill an order. But that is not the case for the vast majority of businesses, who are desperately battling the current climate, trying to change the way they operate, going without wages, days off, self-funding the business, all in order to survive. For many it is a rough patch, and they will get through it, but for others it will be time to call it a day.
The right approach
As a founder of BrideCo, I take our responsibility to shop owners and the bridal industry very seriously. BrideCo members offer their customers free dress deposit insurance, and a discounted rate for Full Wedding Insurance. We can only offer it; we cannot force brides to take it out, but can only provide them with all the details, and advise them to take advantage of it, especially as the Wedding Attire Insurance is free.
It is the mark of a responsible shop owner to offer this service. We should all be training our staff in the importance of Wedding Insurance, as not one of us can see into the future, but anyone of us can be affected by unforeseen circumstances. We are not immune to hard times, however loudly we may say on social media to the contrary.
Recently, I have been supporting some shops who are having to face very hard choices. Suppliers have them over a barrel, and are often unwilling to help a shop out with a dress that is required urgently for a bride, but insist that stock orders have to paid for in full first, before the order is released.
The main aim for the shop, and for us at BrideCo, is to ensure the bride gets her dress, as we understand that once it gets out on social media that a dress can’t be delivered on time, then the shop is often forced into closure, as panic sets in with other brides. This damages confidence in the industry.
The reality is often that it is a cash-flow issue, that could be resolved with the sale of a few dresses off the peg, but shops are not given breathing space. Some suppliers will actively try to block every avenue available to a shop to find that dress for a bride, rather than help out a shop during a difficult trading period, with no understanding of what it really is like for a shop owner to be struggling not only financially, but also emotionally, as we all take our roles very personally.
Not everything is as black and white as many accounts departments would like it to be for shops, and we need to work with each other, for the good of the industry.
The bridal industry as a whole will have to make some very big changes: confidence is low, and discussions are needed in order to protect supplier, store and customer.
Our strength lies in our numbers, and our ability to work together, and with suppliers for the good of the industry. If we are to survive the storm, we should be protecting the integrity of the industry, and offering support to others in their time of need, rather than giving a platform to those who choose to attack, spread false rumours and humiliate others.
All admins on discussion groups need to be held accountable for what they to allow to be said on these forums. We can share issues, raise concerns, ask questions etc, without censure, but when conversations are libellous or defamatory, or when trolling is accepted as ‘banter’ then admins need to act.
As women in business we should also hold ourselves accountable, and understand that having a strong opinion is no excuse for bullying, abuse or attack.
The ‘Jeremy Kyle Effect’ is
now being taken very seriously. No longer is it acceptable to encourage abuse, humiliation and scorn under the guise of ‘entertainment’ or ‘free speech’ or ‘lively chat’. It is now understood that the wider implications of such actions, can be devastating.
If admins or moderators do not take action to stop this, or actively encourage it, then we have to be held accountable. The National Crimes Agency are now taking these instances very seriously, and we owe all our members a duty of care.
It is a crime
Virtual mobbing and trolling are crimes under the Malicious Communication Act 1988 and the Communications Act 2003. Admins of groups who allow these cybercrimes to take place, and
those who participate in them,
should be aware that the consequences of their actions could damage their own businesses, and so think twice before they share lies, false rumours and engage in trolling and online abuse. The bridal industry needs to act now, to protect those who are victim to it, and stop those who encourage it.
The majority of bridal shop owners in this country are exceptional and supportive, but the small minority who take pleasure in abusing or bullying others online, need to be aware that all of us are only a season away from hardship, and perhaps consider how a few minutes of attack online can have far-reaching consequences, not just on the intended victim, but also on the original poster and the admin of the group, if they fail stop it.
This industry should be better than that.