The Name and Shame Game
Dockwalk November 2022
Previously, naming and shaming someone on an online platform was a terrifying thought. The potential repercussions, the damage to your reputation, the fear of appearing unprofessional and just the thought of posting something without tangible proof was enough to put 99% of individuals off even considering it. The latest generation, however, seem to have absolutely no qualms about doing this, and the recent emergence of a new Facebook group called Yachties: Name, Shame and Fame only goes to confirm that. Members can post either publicly or anonymously on this forum which currently has over fifteen thousand members and is growing daily.
Where some of the content is constructive, e.g., you could post a question such as “I’ve been offered a job on MY Xyz, does anyone know anything about the yacht?” receiving first-hand feedback from crew who’ve worked onboard, the vast majority is negative. Accusations of unacceptable behaviour from senior crew, managers, even owners, naming not only the individuals but the yachts themselves. So as the reader, how do we discern if the person posting is speaking truth, or is a disgruntled ex (employee/partner/supplier etc) or lies? We live in a time where a great many believe everything they read on the internet, and once that poisonous seed has been sown the damage is already done – let’s be honest,
the brown stuff has a tendency to stick…
I spoke to maritime lawyer Michael T. Moore of Moore & Company in Florida about the legal ramifications of posting accusations online and he said, “Simply stated, the internet is not a lawless place. If you post, you can be toast. So, when you defame someone on the internet, you can be held accountable. Lawsuits to redress defamation are being filed with
Should we be scared to publicly share our experiences, good or bad? Benjamin Maltby, Partner of Keystone Law in the UK, told me, “The starting point, in all liberal democracies, is that free speech is a fundamental right. You can say what you like unless the law states otherwise. English law draws the line where statements are defamatory." From there, “A
claimant must establish that the words complained of are defamatory of them. Two hurdles must be overcome. Firstly, the statement must be one that "tends to lower the claimant in the estimation of right-thinking people generally". Secondly, the words must have a tendency to have a "substantially adverse effect"; on the way that people reading such
words would then treat the claimant.” Basically, if the claimant has tangible proof that the other person’s comments have caused a negative impact on their income or ability to get work, they have a case and could seek damages. Not that it’s always about financial retribution, if we consider the ever-increasing number of high-profile cases such as Johnny Depp versus Amber Heard in the US, or the “Wagatha Christie” trial in the UK, we see that the claimant is not seeking compensation so much as an apology and/or press coverage effectively clearing that person’s name.
There are many Facebook pages dedicated to yachting, but arguably the best-known are the “[location] Yacht Crew” groups. Several years ago, former yachtie Lars Molin launched Palma Yacht Crew, a group aiming to help crew in Mallorca connect with each other for meet-ups, activities, and to share helpful industry/local advice. Well, PYC really took off. So much so that Lars created groups for other yachting hubs worldwide and now runs sixteen of them stretching globally. With over eighty thousand members just on PYC, this group has become a major “go to” for all things yachting. Lars has always maintained a strict “no name/shame” policy across his groups which is policed and enforced by his admins, and other users who are encouraged to report these acts.
With his permission I shared a poll to the PYC group asking: How do you feel about people naming and shaming other crew/yachts/owners on social media?
Fine – if done publicly (i.e. with own name) – 4%
Fine – I don’t care if it’s anonymous or public – 4%
Fine – if the other party gets to have their say – 50%
Bad – it’s unprofessional – 32%
Bad – nobody looks good in this situation – 6%
Seeing the results, Lars commented: “50% think that naming and shaming is "Fine - if the other party gets to have their say". The problem here is that often the person being shamed is not tagged in the post. Even if they are, the damage is already done, as many will NOT see the reply. People need to consider the damage being done and the impact on the person
being named and shamed.”
I contacted the 3 admins of the Name Fame and Shame page to investigate further, one declined to answer my questions, one ignored my request, but the third, Alex Siegers, was happy to chat on the record.
Alex explained, “the page was set up after the creator got stiffed on a charter tip and lost $8000.” The creator is no longer involved, but we understand his objective was to allow crew a safe forum to warn each other about bad programmes like this.
Anonymous posting is a concern; Alex admitted he’s not a fan either, “I believe if you want to publicly criticize somebody or a vessel, you should attach your name to it. Yet, I understand the importance in certain cases. If somebody feels threatened or it's a personal issue posting anonymously gives them the courage to come forward.” A valid point, but how do they (admins) decide which posts are true, and which aren’t? Since discussing this with Alex they’ve implemented rules that evidence must be presented, or the post will be refused; proof they’re taking their responsibilities seriously.
I asked Michael about legalities of posting anonymously (regardless of whether the content is true or not), and here’s the mic drop moment, he told me “If I got a court order, the admins would be forced to tell me who the anonymous poster was.” How long would that take? “A matter of days.” Pretty sure none of those posting anonymously are aware of this. Be warned: if you accuse someone of something, if they come after you then your identity will be exposed. Before posting, take a moment to consider everything. Much like sending that drunk 3am text, will you regret it in the morning? Is there a better time and place to address this? Maybe there isn’t but, it’s good to take a breath before posting something potentially litigious online. After all, once it’s on the internet, it’s there forever.
Although the admins are doing all they can to police and ensure posts are true, it often comes down to their own judgement and opinion. Members have been becoming restless recently and that’s evident in the lack of empathy and increasingly frequent “suck it up” or “if you don’t like it leave the industry” type responses appearing. Judgement is being dished out thick and fast, and it’s up to the admins to remain impartial, but as they’re not legally trained, how easy is that to do? Personal feelings regularly come forward on the group, and before you know it we’re in a kangaroo court scenario where people are hung out to dry by peers who were not involved and only have half the story. Let’s face it: there are 3 sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth. Only recently we saw several threads regarding a chef’s employment. Firstly, the chef posted warning others off employment by certain individuals, sharing screen shots of Whatsapp conversations (without permission – is this legal?), stating his dissatisfaction with salary, and conditions. This opened a debate – people jumped to defend both sides, arguing about what they personally deemed correct or incorrect. Then the next post: the accused got wind of the accusations, and published their rebuttal, slating this chef into the ground with their version of events. Once again, lots of people got involved, and in many’s opinion, nobody came out of that situation looking any good. I’m sure agents, managers, etc, see these posts and make a note to actively avoid working with any of these parties who so happily get involved in public mudslinging. Evidently several crew are on the group to stir trouble and use it purely as entertainment which doesn’t help matters when emotions are already running high.
A captain contacted me saying he’s been blocked from the group and claims to have sent several cease-and-desist letters to the admins of the page but to no avail; when I spoke to the admin involved I was told the accusations were all true and he had proof. Whether or not they are, should that captain be banned? What gives the admins the rights to make those decisions on who is allowed to defend themselves and who isn’t? Should they remain unbiased despite their knowledge, or use their personal experience to make these potentially life changing statements and decisions? It’s a powerful position to be in.
It's safe to assume that the average crew member would not have the resources to pursue a defamatory case. Benjamin said, “For most, given the hurdles which need to be overcome to win a judgment against someone who’s made defamatory remarks, and the risk of having to pay the defendants’ (considerable) legal costs, as well as your own, if you lose, bringing an action for defamation is unrealistic. Sticks and stones. Move on.” But then, he added, “Not so for superyacht owners with deep pockets...” Something to bear in mind; even if your post concerns, say, a captain or a chief stewardess, if they have the backing of the owner of the vessel then they may well have a legal team behind them beyond your wildest dreams. By naming a yacht, and their captain/chief stew etc, you’ve brought the owner and his/her reputation into it. Thus, there’s every chance the owner could pursue legal action as any negative press regarding their yacht reflects upon them; let’s say it’s a chartering yacht, that could massively affect their bookings. Do you have the cash available to cover the financial loss of several weeks of high season charter bookings? Highly unlikely. As Michael succinctly said, “it’s not a pretty thing if a billionaire comes for you.”
We all know the industry needs improving, we all know we need to work together to weed out the bad and nurture the good, but is naming and shaming on a public forum the best way to do this?
As Alex said, “The page has grown very quickly into a considerable platform. The popularity has shown that there was a resource missing in our industry.” He’s right. The horror stories are constantly rolling in and they need to be heard so we can work together as an industry to make change.
Unarguably the page has shaken the industry up and perhaps it’s a step in the right direction. It’s no coincidence that the number of defamation cases has rocketed since the digital age; now we communicate so much online everything is recorded and permanent. Perhaps we should consider the old way of doing things, as Lars said “Before social media the jungle drums would sound all the way from the Caribbean to the Med, industry gossip would travel via word of mouth, so before going online to rant, consider contacting friends, colleagues, crew agents etc first. They’ll know!” I’d be more inclined to trust someone I knew than a stranger on the internet, but then again maybe I’m just old?! Regardless, just
be careful what you post!