Trust Agents Don’t Betray Trust

April 6, 2010

I like teasing, having fun and joking with people. Last Thursday, in case you forgot, was April Fools day, and usually on that day I fool someone. And, I get fooled. There is a difference between being fooled in good fun and being made a fool of by someone you trust. I was made to look foolish by someone I trusted.

Chris Brogan’s book Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust is one of the best books I’ve read recently about the inner workings of the social media. Trust agents are people who understand how to build a network of people using social media, people who trust their judgment and ultimately may be customers. Through time spent interacting with people socially, a reputation is built, a brand that has enormous influence in a positive way with this network of followers. Obviously, there is much more elaboration about trust agents than this cursory explanation. That’s why you should read the book.
I like this quote from the jacket flap: “Today, the most valuable online currency isn’t the dollar, but trust itself.”

Back to tasteless pranks.
I follow people on the Internet who I trust. If someone I consider to be expert in her field checks sources and has never led me astray, she (or he) just might be a trust agent. A good example of a trust agent, someone you may know if you’ve been on the Internet for a while is Fred Lang. For years Fred wrote a great newsletter, filled with tips, advice and answered questions for subscribers. If Fred said it, you could take it to the bank. His newsletter, The LangaList merged with Windows Secrets in 2006.

And The Prank?
Someone else I have followed for a number of years posted a tasteless April fools prank last week. There are certain things that simply aren’t funny. Among them are spam, viruses, and most things that appear harmful to anyone using the Internet. Social norms most people take for granted are lost on some people. Anything that smacks of race, politics or religion is off limits on or offline. And if you happen to be an Internet trust agent, it is not in your best interest to make a spurious joke regarding a potentially harmful subject about the Internet.

So what?
So, for me all credibility with this former trust agent is gone. April first is no excuse for posting erroneous information online. If there had been a follow-up, a gotcha, some sort of posting to let me know this was a joke, it may have been different. I discovered I had been fooled by another commenter who did see the “joke.”

How sad.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

missy April 6, 2010 at 11:06 am

That's so terrible! And in such poor taste. Sorry to hear that happened. Hope all is well.

Hal Brown April 6, 2010 at 11:51 am

All is well. Incidentally, this well know personality tripped up others as well. I hope this doesn't come across a whining – I wrote this because I honestly believe certain things are off limits for jokes. Imagine that Norton Antivirus posted a prank like this. They did not of course.
The point is, there is no humor in hurtful things, at least not for me.
Thanks Missy.

Mari April 6, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Trust is finely woven with respect into the fabric of friendship. When either are disturbed the tear can be impossible to repair. Ask anyone who has ever been divorced.

Hal Brown April 6, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Divorce. I hadn't thought of that, but having some personal knowledge of it, what a perfect example of lost trust. Thanks Mari.

Tony Eldridge April 6, 2010 at 2:48 pm

I like your sentiment in this post, Hal. I Personally, for me, I try to be a little more aware on April 1st when it comes to something I read on the net, and I can forgive a lot of what I read. Heck, I will laugh with the best of them. But people who play the April Fool's game have the responsibly to “fess-up” on April 2nd. It's just part of the game.

I also agree that there are just some lines you do not cross, even in the name of April Fool's Day. Most people exercise good 'ole common sense and for those who don't, the average person will know when the line is crossed. Thanks for the post.

Karen Ruby April 6, 2010 at 3:13 pm

Hi Hal,

How awful to be put in that situation. I have really learned my lessons regarding losing trust in people, so I can relate.

Sometimes people think that they are being clever or funny, but then the joke falls flat. Worse is when someone's feelings are hurt and they are embarassed. I fell for a April Fools joke this year, but the person who did it felt so bad and wrote about how sorry they were, that I felt bad for them. It's an easily relateable feeling, as all of us have made mistakes and wish we can take back certain things. But, I do agree that there are lines that people shouldn't cross, particularly on the internet where things are 'forever'.

Btw, it doesn't come across as whining. It's a lesson's learned.


Hal Brown April 6, 2010 at 3:27 pm

I hope the lesson here is some things are not funny, even on April 1. Thanks for your insight Karen.

Hal Brown April 6, 2010 at 3:29 pm

I have a friend who believes everyone needs a little humor in their life. I agree. I love to laugh and I can take a joke on me. Its all about the lines we draw. Thanks Tony.

Kevin M. April 6, 2010 at 5:29 pm

You make a great point here Hal! Thanks for sharing your story.

Hal Brown April 6, 2010 at 5:39 pm

Thanks for your comment Kevin.

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