Said Anton Rippon, journalist supplying material to the Derby Telegraph, last month: "This week, I was going to write about Trent Barton’s customer services phone line. But that will have to wait. Instead, I want to tell you that the same bus company has banned me. Not from its buses (at least I think not) but from writing on its Facebook page. The company’s commercial director, Alex Hornby, has told me that I’m “disruptive”.
Quite what Rippon's disruptive behaviour was will have been removed by now, though perhaps Trent Barton's online lurkers weren't aware of his credentials when choosing to ban him from commenting on their Facebook site. Love or loath journalists, trying to clip their wings when they've been undertaking in a perfectly legal past-time is sure to set them off.
And it's not just journalist Rippon who's been prevented from posting on Trent Barton's Facebook page. A regular contributor to a Yahoo! Group recently posted there that he has been prevented from leaving comments on the same Facebook group for a similar reason.
Understandably, had both individuals been on Trent Barton's payroll, they'd be facing a potential charge of gross misconduct in addition to having their right to respond revoked. But they're not. They're both potential customers and for a market leader like Trent Barton to alienate potential custom from opinionated locals - both of whom have used their services in the past - seems very odd. Journo Rippon was told that his comments were, "causing conflict among fans which is something we are not willing to promote".
You'd be forgiven for thinking that the world is a little less free than when you started reading this entry. Perhaps not. While Trent Barton's Facebook page looks like it could have been started by a group of like-minded enthusiasts, it hasn't. It is a Trent Barton production, formed and administered by them. Anyone can start a Facebook profile up, call themselves whatever bus company they like and invite people to join and comment. Trent Barton's is effectively an arm of their business and is being monitored quite heavily it would appear (certainly if a commercial director is entering into direct communication with people no longer allowed to contribute).
Facebook undoubtedly brings Trent Barton closer to its public and offers its passengers as much information as they can possibly get in this medium, from a bus operator. The down side is that Trent Barton alone judges what it considers to be truly free speech, similar to how it would with comments left on its website. Some will argue that *all* free speech is acceptable and that nothing should be removed from the www unless it becomes criminally sensitive. A company with an image to upkeep will obviously think otherwise.
I would imagine there are plenty of anti-Trent Barton forums out there, if you're willing to look hard enough. (GWB)