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Should posters be required to disclose their business relationships?

On one of the regional boards a poster started a thread by asking an extremely general question. I'm going to paraphrase because I don't want to link to the thread but it went something like "Where can I get the best food in the city?"

A number of us were puzzled - the question seemed overly broad. It turned out that the poster is a professional food tour leader.

The implication, which he hotly denied, is that he was looking for destinations to put on his tour. Those tours aren't cheap - he charges $59 per tour.

A number of us said that he should have disclosed his professional interest. The moderators disagreed and made the following statement -

"We request, but don't require bloggers and journalists to disclose when they're planning on using information from a question in an article and even if the poster is planning to use this info to help plan tours, this seems pretty similar to that."

With all respect, the "request but don't require" policy is toothless. Unless the tour leader discloses their business how are people able to decide whether they want to respond to the question? Some people might not mind helping the tour leader make money. Others would find it objectionable to use Chowhound as a platform to solicit money making suggestions.

Without requiring disclosure, we don't have the information to make an informed decision. I suggest that the policy be amended - disclosure should be mandatory.

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  1. In the end I don't see any difference between helping someone with suggestions on where to take their boss to dinner because they are hoping to curry favor and get a bigger raise or promotion, or because they are going to offer food tours, or just want to impress their in-laws, (just a few examples among a million different reasons that folks come here for dining help).

    And it's not exactly like we are disclosing top secret NSA data mining programs here in any case. If the food tour guy wanted to spend more time delving into local board history they could probably come up with all the same places anyway, though it wouldn't be as fast or as easy as getting the names in one thread.

    1. I agree disclosure "should" be mandatory, but I don't know how it would be enforced. Some people clearly have an agenda when starting threads, but I just choose to ignore them. It's also interesting to me that some companies are clearly monitoring the conversations here and jumping in to address customer service issues. A quick look at someone's posting history can sometimes be very telling!

      3 Replies
      1. re: ohmyyum

        Or accidental. I posted about a new cream cheese styled product made from goats milk a while back and someone representing the company not only commented to me directly within the thread (which was deleted quickly) but also created a CH profile and added my s/n to their People Reading Me profile. I know because their s/n is listed on people reading me using the s/n that was deleted when they made the comment.

        I like the product, I have no affiliation with the company and don't know anyone from the company, yet all that "stuff" happened anyway. And it would be nice if I could decide who gets to add me to their People Reading Me list but that happens without my input.

        No control over that either.

        1. re: HillJ

          Oh I definitely didn't mean you, HillJ! You contribute widely, and I've actually tried several different products you've posted about. (I love that Greek yogurt cream cheese, btw).
          I meant posters who only comment on or start threads about a particular topic, a fruit, for example, and use every opportunity to disparage a particular varietal while promoting another. Or another example was someone from a specialty shop that responded to a thread about the condition of a product, was defensive, and made no other contributions on anything else, ever, not even their topic of expertise. I just don't find those kinds of posts particularly informative or helpful.

          1. re: ohmyyum

            LOL, I didn't think for a minute you were singling me out, ohmy. I offered one example of how this stuff can happen without intent on either parties part. I think the goat cheese people found out the hard way that they can't openly thank or discuss their product with CH members in a thread. And passionate promotion happens on the site all the time so how do we really know if there is an agenda unless Sherlock Holmes is employed? :)

      2. I think you have a valid point Bob M.

        But keep in mind, CH members already contribute their words, photos, ideas and tips to the site to use as they see fit. CHOW.com is a money making enterprise and the CH Team has relied and openly stated that "the buzz" from the CH community has launched new projects ideas we all enjoy here.

        So, while a worthwhile inquiry, who you are asking to help amend policy is also on board with using poster supplied material.

        1 Reply
        1. re: HillJ

          I also want to call your attention to this ongoing Quick Link thread on the General Topics board that offers pros a place to post their open call for CH member participation:

          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/855725

          So, the poster could have been re-directed to this Quick Link very easily.

        2. The Mods are right.

          It would be pointless to require disclosures of this type.

          The recommendations and ideas you, and everyone else, posts on these boards is in the public domain. They are free for everyone to crib, copy and (even) steal from.

          Aside from verbatim copying of your exact written posts, the ideas and thoughts you posit here are free for everyone to do with as they please.

          22 Replies
          1. re: ipsedixit

            The site already states policy to bloggers, journalists, professionals. Enforcement of who is who is the tricky part, yes?

            1. re: HillJ

              The policy does not "require" journalists to disclose (and for that matter it also does require restaurant insiders to disclose, which in my opinion is the more troublesome aspect of the disclosure issue).

              Who cares if the journalists is posting to solicit ideas -- either openly or surreptitiously?

              I respond to posts qua basic questions -- not as Sherlock Holmes trying to ferret out the (possible) hidden agendas behind that question.

              If a blogger or journalist wants to borrow or steal my recommendation or idea -- so be it. At the end of the day, it's still my idea.

              Nobody is paying me to post. I contribute. Voluntarily. And I do that knowing full well that my posts are subject to being borrowed in one fashion or another.

              Life's too short. Move on.

              1. re: ipsedixit

                If that works for you and anyone else that shares your opinion, great. But if it doesn't work for you disclosure would cover both sides of the question. Disclosure wouldn't require that anyone act like Sherlock Holmes....or Captain America!

                1. re: HillJ

                  The existence of CH, (its "raison d'etre") is to share tips on places to find great food. How is that mission undermined by the motive of the person asking for just such dining suggestions?

                  1. re: Servorg

                    If a rep from NY Food Tours hopped on CH to ask for recommendations to help their research and said up front who they are and why they are asking I don't know if their post would be Mod approved, move to the Quick Link or deleted.
                    I also don't know if the community would help, tell the poster to bug off or flag the OP for mods to look at. And the reason I don't know is because every situation on CH is handled on a case by case basis. Some threads stay, some go, some go eventually and some become a 500 comment thread that everyone points to.

                    So what's wrong is a question for some on the decision making side to answer.

                    I happen to think Bob had a point.

                    1. re: HillJ

                      You've actually made a good case NOT to disclose. We all win when more hounds chime in with good/new suggestions that "we" can benefit from. Giving anyone a reason not to contribute their knowledge is antithetical to this site and it purpose.

                      How does the fact that someone is using those same recommendations to do a food tour going to make my, (or your) use of them less or problematic? I don't get that argument from the standpoint of why I'm here.

                      1. re: Servorg

                        No, my point is that every member of the community is expected to follow the guidelines of the site and the rules bend all the time. Professionals are told what the guidelines are and a Quick Link exists on CH for them to use if they want to. Your perspective does not address the professional guidelines it addresses your enjoyment of any given thread. I don't plan to explain why you or I use CH.

                        Jacq just answered the decision as it relates to Bob's question. The team felt the information shared outweighed the disclosure.

                        1. re: HillJ

                          I'll just close by saying "How does the motivation of the OP make anyone here poorer for the replies/suggestions given in any thread?" It's not logical or helpful to damp the enthusiasm of hounds to contribute their knowledge.

                          1. re: Servorg

                            And how does leaving out that you are a professional seeking information from food lovers on CH change it? Disclose who you are and what you are looking for upfront and having it come to light during the thread won't dampen enthusiasm either.

                            Did it dampen enthusiasm for all? No. But for those who wanted to ask the question, I see no harm in asking.

                            1. re: HillJ

                              But you've already postulated the harm with your statement above that said "I also don't know if the community would help, tell the poster to bug off or flag the OP for mods to look at."

                              That's why it's not a good idea. And the fact that knowing may make some not contribute means that we all lose, without gaining anything if the disclosure is made.

                              I don't think I can come up with a clearer expression of why disclosure isn't optimal if we are here to get better dining/food finds.

                              1. re: Servorg

                                Where you've lost me is in avoiding the guidelines the site created. Either they are used to support policy or they aren't. In most situations, they bend....based on how much value the information offers the CH community.

                                In your opinion the guidelines bend to support the enjoyment solely. But what if that doesn't support CH's who would prefer to know up front if the person asking the question is asking for help in support of their professional research or just for general inquiry.

                                We aren't talking about the same aspects of this question or why Bob W. posed it.

                            2. re: Servorg

                              " It's not logical or helpful to damp the enthusiasm of hounds to contribute their knowledge."

                              We're not children who need to be tricked into doing something. We deserve to know the truth. Then we can make an informed decision.

                              1. re: Bob Martinez

                                Bob, no one is calling anyone here a child, or saying that they are in favor of being tricked into anything. I'm here to eat better. More suggestions by a greater participation in a thread increases the likelihood of that happening. If someone who runs a food tour comes along and uses that information after the fact does that diminish you or me or anyone here? Before the fact, or after, the result is exactly the same.

                                1. re: Servorg

                                  If a new restaurant opens and the owners friends and family all show up posting positive reviews they'd rightly be called shills. They'd be shills even if the restaurant was good. Shilling can't be justified because there may be some positive outcome.

                                  1. re: Bob Martinez

                                    But we aren't talking about shilling. We were/are discussing whether or not the end use by the OP (or any other participant in a thread) of any suggestions made here should matter to anyone.

                                    I report any and all possible shilling via the report button without delay, in every instance.

              2. re: ipsedixit

                Exactly. I frequently give away intellectual property. But when I have something of real value, we deal. Mercantilism has enabled all this free time I have. What a great country!

                1. re: Veggo

                  Bingo.

                  If one is really going to be possessive about their posts, start up a website and put everything behind a pay-wall.

                  Like I said up above, life's too short. Move on.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/855725

                    I like how this Quick Link addresses the question. Let the community decide if it wishes to help you further your work related inquiry.

                    Life's too short, move on? Well, that is so much easier when you aren't bothered by issues that don't concern your attention in the least. When we get to a topic that actually bothers you, I'll be interested to read your view.

                    1. re: HillJ

                      Lots of topics bother me, like this one.

                      But disclosure would not make a topic bother me any less, or more.

                2. re: ipsedixit

                  Chowhound is a public board. For privacy reasons most of us choose not to reveal our real names or addresses. We also don't reveal where we work because we sometimes post from the office. Fair enough. All are legitimate concerns.

                  Can anyone come up with a valid reason why a person who runs a food tour business would want to withhold that information while asking a question?

                  Because I can't.

                  I can come up with plenty of reasons why the potential responders to that question might want to know.

                  1. re: Bob Martinez

                    Perhaps for the same reasons you posted above? They are certainly entitled to their own privacy. Besides, if you were running an enterprise which depended upon your expertise in a certain subject, yet you didn't feel confident enough in your knowledge that it caused you to seek outside help, would you publicize it? What would your impression be of that company from a customer's point of view?

                    1. re: Jerseygirl111

                      "Besides, if you were running an enterprise which depended upon your expertise in a certain subject, yet you didn't feel confident enough in your knowledge that it caused you to seek outside help, would you publicize it?"

                      I think the vast majority of posters come here to learn new things as well as share the information they already have. Most of us learn far more than we share because we're the beneficiaries of the shared opinions and knowledge of thousands of people.

                      There's no disgrace in a tour operator looking for new finds. I do have an issue with a commercially motivated poster pretending to be something they're not.

                3. We don't think of questions and answers as being strictly useful to the person who asked the original question -- that's why we have a site search and we keep archives of Chowhound discussions back through the history of the site rather than closing things up once a specific trip or event or dinner has taken place. It's also why we don't strictly require disclosure when someone might have an outside motive for a question -- if a question is likely to generate tips that are useful to hounds, then it benefits the Chowhound community to have the question asked and answered.

                  This question may have seemed overly broad, but it did actually get several interesting responses. We've seen the same question asked on other boards in the past, where it has also prompted useful, informative discussion.

                  We understand that some people prefer not to help others with their homework, but making disclosure mandatory would require investigations and enforcement similar to that we do for shills. And in cases like these, where answers are bound to help not only the original poster, but also many thousands of hounds reading along, that is a lot of resources to devote to something that has only a minor downside.

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: Jacquilynne

                    I'll say it again. I can't think of a single legitimate reason for a food tour operator not to disclose that fact.

                    Once they do we can all reap the benefits of the answers to their questions. People can answer if they want.

                    I don't see any negatives to requiring disclosure. It's not as if hundreds of magazine writers and tour leaders flood this site asking insightful questions that generate really great answers and a disclosure requirement would drive them away.

                    Once they disclose they can still ask their questions. What they *won't* be able to do is to coyly pretend that they're just regular posters looking for some dining tips. They're professionals and we're entitled to know it.

                    Transparency is a good thing.

                    1. re: Bob Martinez

                      I'll say it again. I can't think of a single legitimate reason for a food tour operator not to disclose that fact.
                      ___________________________

                      I can.

                      Maybe the tour operator wants recommendations for a non-tourist perspective, and disclosing it would prevent that.

                      Lot's of food tour operators will advertise things like "See NYC like a local!".

                      Even if the tour operator disclosed that (1) she was a tour operator and (2) wanted only recommendations for a "local interest" perspective there will inevitably be a response bias -- either knowingly or not.

                      Transparency is a good thing when it comes to lingerie, not necessarily for posters or posts.

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        That's a really big stretch.

                        The tour operator didn't even reveal whether they were a native of that city or a tourist themselves.

                        Nope. The only reasons not to disclose are bad ones.

                        1. re: Bob Martinez

                          Did the tour operator also fail to disclose that she was the second child of four.

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              If you have an answer that's on point I'd be glad to read it.

                        2. re: Bob Martinez

                          If we could easily enforce this requirement, that might tilt the math in that direction. But the resources that would be required to review and investigate questions (in addition to the shill investigations we already do) would be tremendous.

                          Plus, unlike shills, where if you can determine someone works at a given restaurant, you can easily tell that posts they make mentioning it are shilling, even if you determine that the person asking a question is a blogger, journalist or tour guide, it's not necessarily going to be obvious whether their question is strictly a professional inquiry or a personal one.

                          We couldn't effectively enforce "you must disclose if you plan to use this information in an article, blog entry or other professional capacity" so it's not a rule we can put into place. The best we can do is suggest it as a good idea, which we have, in our information for Bloggers and Journalists.

                          1. re: Jacquilynne

                            Jacquilynne, I appreciate your reply. I do understand your concerns about adding to the moderators' already heavy workloads.

                            My own long term experience on the boards tells me that this type of commercially motivated post is only an occasional thing. There are a lot more shills out there than there are authors in search of leads or tour operators in search of new restaurants to take their customers.

                            My guess is that you rely on regular posters to be your early warning system on shills. I'm sure regular posters would also report undisclosed professionals if given the chance. If fact, that's what happened on the thread that started this site talk topic. A regular poster outed the tour operator.

                            Of course enforcement can never be 100% and I'm not suggesting that the mods make this their priority but when presented with conclusive evidence it would be nice to have a concrete basis for action.

                            Again, I have no problem with a poster who discloses their professional standing. It's the ones that deliberately conceal it that I find unethical.

                        3. re: Jacquilynne

                          'This question may have seemed overly broad, but it did actually get several interesting responses."
                          As one of the people who actually did respond to the post in question, gotta disagree. My own response was frivolous and most of the other replies were along the lines of, "What? I don't understand your question? How could anybody even give an answer to that?" The couple of serious answers were recommendations that would already have been familiar to readers of this particular regional board.
                          IOW, the original post drew attention to itself as odd - thus resulting in speculation about the poster's motive. Maybe those were the "interesting responses" you mention.

                        4. This is like the Volstead Act. You cannot enforce compliance. As the Moderators have pointed out.

                          If I find my recipe for parsley butter whelks in a cookbook that is for sale, I expect to be paid for it. I consider this site akin to the FBI warning on DVDs. Personal consumption only.

                          If somebody is going to gain financially, I would like to know about it so that I can make an informed decision. Laws concerning intellectual property are in a constant state of flux, and I do not think we are going to solve the problem here.

                          And the only way you are going to get Dale's Habanero Jerk Rub is to bring your own jar to the boat with an appropriate gift. Rum is always in season.

                          2 Replies
                            1. re: HillJ

                              No problem. Habenero, not cayenne. No salt or pepper. Place whelks in white wine and bring to simmer. And key lime zest prior to serving.

                              I'll give them B+ though.