07:16 AM

The Right to Respond Should be a Fundamental Right of the Internet

At the Newcomm Forum in Las Vegas this week, I kept hearing a lament that is all too common: how to deal with with negative or incorrect content about a company and its  products on search engine results? Especially if those negative  links are on the first page of results because most users rarely look at more than one page. The same issue applies to individuals too.

Publishing  a response to a critic is not enougth because it is unlikely to be ranked on the first page of search results. Similarly, if a critic were to change their mind about a company, an individual,  or product--the search engines could still be serving up the original complaint on that crucial first page of results.

This is a serious problem in terms of reputation management for companies, and it will increasingly affect individuals too as they seek new jobs, new partners, etc. 

Companies have large resources and there are ways they can influence the search results. Individuals have far less ability to manage their online reputations.

The Right to Respond

I'm proposing that companies and individuals all should have a level playing field and that a fundamental right of the Internet should be the right to respond to anything that is written, said, or viewed about them.

Readers reading a Right to Respond posting will know that it is likely biased but at least they can make up their own minds.

There should be a tiny Right to Respond widget or link next to any content. The widget is fed by a central Right to Respond.org server. If there is a response filed by a company or individual, it will indicate it, in the same way as my Technorati widget found at the end of each article shows readers if there are other blogs mentioning this post.

- Companies would pay to use this service, individuals would have free access.

- Web site owners/publishers/bloggers, etc would not be forced to provide a Right to Respond link next to their content. But if they did, it would show that they are a respectable and responsible site. Sites that are critical and that won't offer a right to respond will be seen as less credible.

- Offering a Right to Respond link should become the responsible thing to do--especially if a site's reach, such as Google's could potentially and inadvertently cause harm to reputation.

- The New York Times should offer a Right to Respond link next to every story that it publishes. Again, it is the responsible thing to do,  because of its reach and influence and potential to harm reputations.

- Local newspapers should offer a Right to Respond link too, because of their influence in each community.

- Search engines should offer a right to respond link next to each search result they publish--even if a right to respond link isn't found on the original web page of a search result. Some web sites are dead and the content only exists in search engine archives, therefore the search engine becomes the "responsible" publisher.

- There is almost no monetary cost to offering a Right to Respond link, it does not cost a web site owner anything extra in servers or bandwidth.

- Web sites could be paid for offering a Right to Respond service from the fees charged to companies. Each time the page is loaded could earn the publisher a micro-payment, something that could be easily tracked by the Right to Respond widget sitting on the publisher's server.

That payment could be further qualified by the influence of a web site. The New York Times gets more money for running a Right to Respond link than less influential sites-- even if traffic volumes for both are the same.

- Only the content publishers get paid to carry a Right to Respond link and not search engines. It is the originator and not the aggregator that collects the payment.

Would some sites publish nasty things about companies or people simply to collect Right to Respond payments? They could, but constantly publishing critical and negative content would undermine their credibility, their influence, and their traffic.

Offering a Right to Respond should become the right and responsible thing to do,  imho. Let me know what you think.


Todd Defren at Shift Communications: PR Squared: The Right to Respond