Online buzzing – using friendship for benefits

Malik Aleem Ahmed


Internet is a new context and vehicle of delivery for marketing products, services, and political views. Firms have found different ways to market their products and services on the Internet. One of the ways is to use friendship for online marketing of the products, services and influencing the political views. This paper would discuss about the moral issues when people use online resources especially the social media to get benefits and credits by inviting their friends to do something or use the social computing for influencing the political views of associates. This paper would build upon the discussion of Kennett and Mathews (2008) that friends can be directed and interpreted by their friends. Kennett and Mathews (2008) argued in their paper that friends do things that they usually do not perform because their other friends are doing it. So when friends receive invitations from friends to fill a survey or to buy a product, it can be argued that they are influenced and interpreted by the sender friend.

This paper would identify some of the cases, which have moral issues associated with them especially from the corruption of friendship point of view:

• Friends inviting their friends for some incentives

Organizations have been using people to give members some incentives when they invite their friends to contribute in the social media systems. Incentives include but not limited to online credits, free samples, and free access. I will discuss the examples of online credit scenario, professional networking scenario and online surveys scenario to identify the moral issues.

• Forwarding emails or posting items on walls without verifying the information

Moral issues arise when people receive emails and forward them to their friends without verifying the contents of the emails; or people share links, videos, stories, and news on the social networking websites with little knowledge about the authenticity of items. This does not only result in increase in spam mails but also poses moral problems e.g. disinformation. “Negative Online Buzzing” is a term used when a person receives an email from a friend describing something negative about a product or a person. I will discuss different scenarios of negative marketing, hoaxes and using ethnicity or religion to influence people in making their decisions.

• Use Blogs and epinions to influence friends.

Companies hire bloggers to write good things about their products and services. Another case is the hiring of bloggers for spinning for certain political parties. Other times people make and use funny videos for viral marketing. When the friends of the blogger read about the opinions or view the vlogs of their friends then they are influenced by them and are directed to buy certain products or services or to vote for certain political candidates.

I would discuss that these systems use the people as “Online Buzzers” to make a buzz for the web system, product, service or ideology. It is easy to blame the organizations which are using these tools but the question in which I am interested in this paper is that if it is morally right for the people to influence their friends for their vested interests? I argue that my answer tends to be no. One of the reasons being that they use their friends as means towards achieving their own ends. Do their actions mean that the systems and incentives used by the companies or parties to ask people to lure their friends towards a certain direction means the corruption of the friendship?


Jeanette Kennett and Steve Matthews . 2008. What’s the Buzz? Undercover Marketing and the Corruption of Friendship, Journal of Applied Philosophy.

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