Admittedly, the title of this post is a bit hyperbolic, but hear me out. Last month a man was arrested in Los Angeles County and held on $1 million bail. He was charged with making terrorist threats after he posted an eyebrow-raising comment on an ESPN article. The article was about some new LeBron James Nike brand shoes, but the plaintiff, 21-year old Eric Yee, posted something about how he was watching children and wasn’t opposed to the idea of killing them.
You’re probably wondering how this scenario could possibly make ESPN look good. After all, threats of killing children can hardly be painted in a positive light. However, it was ESPN’s actions that led to Yee’s arrest. Employees who monitor the site’s comments and police the community flagged Yee’s posts and contacted the authorities. Granted, Yee’s comments could have been a poor attempt at a joke–they were in response to “[fan and media speculation] that the sneakers’ high price tag — $270 per pair — could lead to kids killing one another over the shoes.” But ESPN clearly wasn’t willing to take that risk and flagged Yee’s remarks to be on the safe side.
Now, you could make the irrational argument that ESPN’s community is full of unstable child killers–after all, when Yee was arrested, several guns were found in his house and he lived near a couple schools, and obviously only a deranged man and not a gun aficionado would own that many firearms, and nobody lives near a school unless they have an unhealthy obsession with minors, right? Sarcasm aside, the logical truth of the matter is that no company can control its customers. An ESPN reader saying something stupid shouldn’t reflect poorly on the brand. After all, the Internet is a haven of free speech, and sooner or later you’re going to stumble across something offensive or hurtful or outrageous. YouTube is a great example–it’s a site with an incredible array of content (music videos, how-to’s, funny videos of cats, movie clips, etc) with an oftentimes mind-numbingly terrible collection of user comments. But that doesn’t detract from the site’s value as a whole. It makes you roll your eyes whenever you check out a video and inadvertently glance down at the comments section, but you can’t blame YouTube for something they can’t control.
The exception, obviously, is when someone makes threats or is doing something potentially illegal. In the ESPN example, Yee was talking about killing children. At that point ESPN would look much worse ignoring it than they would a comment about how Peyton Manning’s head is as large as a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade float balloon. Mashable pointed out that this entire incident actually makes ESPN look good because it’s “[public] proof that it moderates the thousands upon thousands of comments its site receives each day.” I’m inclined to agree with them. With a community that humongous, it’s easy to think that the task of moderating it is too great and hope that the members will police themselves. However, it’s always wise to have employees monitoring the site as much as they can to ensure that nothing serious or potentially illegal slips through the cracks. That’s what ESPN did, and it ended up working in their reputation’s favor despite the negativity surrounding the actual incident.