With the Hospitality Association taking stringent actions against Indian food bloggers who are not ‘genuine’ and sue them for defamation or negative reviews, the community experts discuss at length its impact on the food blogging industry.
Blogging in this digital age has become the sole source of bread and butter for a few influential parts of today’s new age population with the rapidly flourishing influencer marketing industry. When recently news of Indian Food Bloggers without certification or recognition from the national hospitality body to be booked for defaming restaurants created chatter on social media, there were questions raised on the relevance to practice the ‘freedom of speech and expression’ in its varied forms including blogging.
According to Pune Mirror, Chairperson of the Hospitality Industry of India Sanee Awsarmmel was quoted saying there are over 500 bloggers operating in the city and only 25 percent of them are genuine. “How can an engineer or an IT professional judge about food? It is like an engineer treating a patient and not a doctor. The industry is not against bloggers but irresponsible attitude and misuse of their skills”. The report also states that the “new generation of bloggers” are not experts and don’t have insights about the food that they’re reviewing.
The hospitality association also made an announcement to start scanning for blogger community members who mislead customers and public influence opinion about the restaurants.
Social Samosa got in touch with a few food bloggers and experts to know their viewpoints and implications of the move on the flood blogging industry.
The Big Implications
This is not the first time that the community of influencers has fallen under scan radar. Previously too due to an increase in the fake follower count, bloggers had faced the wrath of the Instagram purge. Although, with the hospitality industry trying to sue a section of bloggers for bad reviews puts the spotlight on one’s free and honest opinion.
Gurpreet Singh Tikku, Food Blogger informs that it’s a fact in recent past few bloggers have blackmailed restaurants for free Food/ money or both of them. Hence this move may deter those who have become Food Bloggers for some fun or quick unearned money.
However, the problem is who decides what’s genuine and what’s Not. Tikku added, “And with lakhs of reviews being posted by bloggers every day this is going to only get complex in days to come”.
Another avid food blogger, Kalyan Karmakar aka thefinelychopped asserts that a blog is a private or an open space for anyone to write, share and record what’s happening in their lives. So there is no question of any censorship as of now.
He continued, “The idea of a private body doing it is rather funny. What they can do at the most is create their list of approved bloggers who their members can interact with. This will lead to questions on the sanctity of the list. Because if the reviewer is approved by the reviewed we don’t really know what the veracity of that review is”.
“It will all be worthwhile. Food bloggers can focus on good content creation, being genuine and will not be able to take restaurants and hotels for a ride, basis just their followers or photography skills,” opined Zafar Rais, CEO- Mindshift Interactive.
Restaurants, basis merits of an Influencer can make more informed decisions and will automatically see the value a real Influencer can bring to the table. Besides content creation, an influencer’s need to understand various palates, cuisines, techniques will become vital towards being known as a genuine blogger.
Rais thinks it’s a much-needed move as bloggers and influencers have been taken as an absolutely fluid term by many towards gaining free mileage and reducing the value that genuine influencers bring to the table. He shared that a form of accreditation will go a long way in reducing the clutter and ensuring customers gain the right information.
“We often face debates with our clients on the authenticity and value of bringing influencers on board and this should help screen through them and associate with those who have invested an adequate amount of time in learning not just to write or click photos, but also towards the effort that goes on behind the scenes and identifying the good and bad of it,” Rais elucidated.
Pujneet Singh of Bhooka Saand is of the view that instead of legal actions the authority should have some fixed criteria to blacklist wrongdoing bloggers who are creating problems for restaurants for money or for some favor.
“As a food influencer, I dropped many food reviews videos in the past because I know that it may impact the reputation of the restaurant and many families are running on that business. Putting negative reviews and creating controversy just for the sake of views/hits should be avoided and such negative content not gonna help foodies and restaurants both,” he added.
Singh also thinks that restaurant owners shouldn’t take bloggers ‘taken for granted’ too. “I and many bloggers experienced such things in the past and that’s why now I hardly accept bloggers table inviting. The restaurant owner should welcome healthy criticism because down the line it will help them to grow. We all should work closely and help this industry to grow,” he briefed.
The beginning of Social Media Censorship?
Regulating free speech on social media has been a topic discussed at length for quite some time now. It has also been termed as futile by few and one that invites criticism. If we go by the online definition of Censorship, it is the suppression of speech, public communication, or other information, on the basis that such material is considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or “inconvenient”. In the case of food bloggers being scanned for their authenticity and facing the brunt for negative reviews if not verified connects the waves of social censorship and the long-pending debate.
Does the move come as a flame to the fire chat around rising social media censorship? Rais feels that is doesn’t and hails it is a great move towards decluttering. “Every country needs this to ensure that time and energy invested by businesses in getting to someplace is not held at ransom by a Blogger with a few reviews or photos expecting a free meal. A move such as this will help small and big establishments gain control over what seemed to have been lost”.
Stating his views on the social universe and prevailing censorship, Karmakar stated, “The world of social media is much bigger than us food bloggers and the odd restaurant associations over there. There are far more serious issues involved in terms of respecting privacy, the right to free speech – rather these trivial things read about”.
Meanwhile, Tikku feels that there is definitely a need for a regulating body “However if it’s the outcome of a knee jerk reaction then we are pushing ourselves into a darker Dungeon”.
According to him, censorship of any kind is bad and this is where we seem to be heading with this new ban. “We need regulations in every trade and so does food blogging posts. Regulations will only make the “industry” grow in a better way. It all depends who creates these laws,” Tikku signed off.
While factors like paid reviews and other perks are said to influence an influencer’s views about the restaurants and food joints, the vetting process by the Hotel Association of India and the designed criteria still remains ambiguous.