Main Menu
Join Undercurrent on Facebook

The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975 | |
For Divers since 1975
The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975
Join Undercurrent on Facebook
"Best of the Web: scuba tips no other
source dares to publish" -- Forbes
August 1999 Vol. 14, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
What's this?

Live by the Internet Die by the Internet

from the August, 1999 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Both parties agree that the incident should never have happened. When Jeff Bennewitz and his party came up from his May 2, 1999, night dive with Cozumels Aldora Divers, the Aldora II should have been there waiting, and his party should not have had to swim to shore. The Aldora IIs absence was a serious safety breach, and Bennewitz had every reason to be furious. He was. He went back to his hotel room fuming, and when he got home, he logged onto an online diving forum, posted an account of the incident, and watched the responses mount.

It wasnt the first time the web had roasted Aldora: in November, 1998, a diver passing through a swimthrough found that he was unable to draw air because rust from one of Aldoras steel tanks had totally clogged his regulator (see Undercurrents 4/99 issue). The divemasters quick response averted tragedy and Dillehay announced new tank handling procedures, but the online postings sparked a resounding response from the dive community. It wasn't hard to see why negative posters refer to their handiwork as flaming: Dillehay said that January and February were such financial disasters that I really contemplated closing things down. Although Dillehay says the captain failed to follow written orders when he left Bennewitzs party for what may have been as long as two hours (the captain blames his absence on a dead starboard motor and repairs), Dillehay fears customers who read Bennewitzs online posting will once again vote with their feet.

The online diving forums are a bully pulpit with an amazing reach: services like America Online and Compuserve boast millions of members; others, like Rodale's Diver to Diver, are widely used in the dive community. The forums have turned word-ofmouth recommendations into an immense market force, one that can build businessesor tear them down. Its not like it hasnt happened before. In November, 1995, we published an account of the online troubles of Bruce Bowker, owner of Bonaires Carib Inn. A diver using the screen name Jenny TRR had posted accusations on America Onlines dive bulletin board accusing one of Carib Inns divemasters of using drugs while they were diving. Bowker investishop gated the incident, determined it was untrue, and posted a demand that Jenny TRR retract the accusation. When there was no response, Bowker sued AOL to force it to divulge the identity of the poster and won. The poster turned out to be a disgruntled employee whod not only posted Jenny TRRs original accusation but also impersonated an FBI agent, a Florida state trooper, and others to create the impression that these accusations were backed up by many persons of authority.

Should a business go
under because one angry
customer is very vocal?

Like the newspaper extras of yesteryear, its sensationalism that sells. In mid-June a poster identified only as JoeDiver posted a bold-typeface headline announcing Dive With Martin killed another diver last year. The story that followed stated an instructor working for DWM took a girl to break the deep record for women. She never made it back. DWM denied they knew what the instructor was doing. Some posted responses debated the ethics of Dive With Martins involvement, although a few more savvy respondents asked Whats your agenda? and Why does your title say DWM killed the diver when your post says it was a renegade DWM? One diver concluded that somebody else on the island is so pissed about his success that they post crap like this....

Although dive operators like Dive With Martin and Aldora serve a lot of serious divers and make most of their customers happy, working with boats and in diving means that equipment fails, operators screw up, accidents happen, and customers get mad. Most reasonable folks assess blame on the basis of whether the operator was negligent (or grossly negligent), not how irate the customer is. But when volatile emotions and the internets high-tech bully pulpit combine to play both judge and jury, Im not sure the verdict rendered is always fair and impartial.

The letters posted on the web arent much different from the letters that cross my desk. I have to put each one in perspective. If I get 100 glowing reviews and one person whos had a bad experience, I cant print only the bad experience and imply that its typical. Theres fallout from everything I publish. I have a duty to research each incident thoroughly, look at everyones side, weigh the facts, and print a balanced account of what happened. A critical review can drive an operation out of businesshardly something Id want to do cavalierly.

Should a business go under because one angry customer is very vocal? Dive consumers will decide, but if it does, its because divers are relying on what they read on the web to be accurate, objective, and balanced. Can online dive forums fill this bill? Given human nature, its easy to skew the forums balance: a score of positive reviews can quickly become buried in the avalanche of criticism stemming from a lone incident. As in the cases of Bowker and Dive With Martin, objectivity is also in question, and its impossible to know whether a complaint comes from an objective source or someone with a hidden agenda. The forums are an easy venue to exploit, and theyre as open to a competitors cheap shot as they are to genuinely aggrieved customers. Even in the case of aggrieved customers, readers still only hear one side of the story. All told, the combination of one-sided narratives, the overwhelming number of negative postings, and the possibility that the source of the original complaint may be someone with an ax to grind adds up to a generous margin of erroryet often consumer response to flaming is dramatic, with customers fleeing in droves. Dillehay sums up the likely result quite well when he says, Yes, we live by the internet, and we may die by the internet, but those who react to inflammatory accusations or rumors may only be hurting themselves and the quality of dive experience for all.

John Q. Trigger

I want to get all the stories! Tell me how I can become an Undercurrent Online Member and get online access to all the articles of Undercurrent as well as thousands of first hand reports on dive operations world-wide



NEW! Find in  

| Home | Online Members Area | My Account |
| Travel Index | Dive Gear Index | Health/Safety Index | Environment & Misc. Index | Seasonal Planner | Forums | Blogs | Free Articles | Book Picks | News |
| Dive Resort & Liveaboard Reviews | Featured Reports | Recent Issues | Back Issues | Login | Join | Special Offers | RSS | FAQ | About Us | Contact Us | Links |


Copyright © 1996-2016 Undercurrent (www.undercurrent.org)
3020 Bridgeway, Ste 102, Sausalito, Ca 94965
All rights reserved.

cd