Dodgy dealings in online communities

(This is the Online column, written for The Southland Times)

New Zealand’s online trading community has been abuzz this week with the goings-on involving Mataura man Bruce Gotobed, who admits telling porkies about the history of a cross he sold on Trade Me.

Trading under the name mendlesmanor, Mr Gotobed had been selling off a varied collection of items, from religious relics to Princess Diana’s hair. When questioned about the authenticity of a cross he had listed back in November, he said he was “an ex Jesuit priest and was a clerk for Cardinal Ratzinger when he was Prefect of the Congregation For the Doctrine of the Faith”.

Of course, Cardinal Ratzinger went on to become the current Pope, so that claim potentially inflated the value of the item.

Since then, the proverbial brown stuff has hit the fan, with the whole drama being played out on the Trade Me message board. Mr Gotobed eventually admitted knowing about the provenance of the cross and Trade Me has evicted him from the site.

However, it’s worth noting that many members of the Trade Me community are upset not simply because of the monetary fraud but also the emotional one.

The internet has made the world a much smaller place, creating communities that are every bit as strong and involved as those offline. Mr Gotobed became an active member of the Trade Me message board community and had a lot of good people looking out for him. When he made it known that he was ill, they were supportive. They invested time and energy into offering him emotional support, and sometimes more.

Now, with the latest revelations, a lot of those people have been left feeling somewhat jaded. They are not sure how much of what he has said is true and I suppose the only person who really knows is Mr Gotobed himself.

I’ve seen a lot of good come about from these online communities, including Trade Me. A few years ago, a group of Trade Me members started a charity to raise money for children’s groups, others have collected donations to help out a fellow trader going through tough times and there are those who simply provide what many people are missing in their lives: someone to listen to their problems and make them feel a little less alone.

Yes, there have also been those who have used and abused the good will of others, making up tales of woe to gain donations or sympathy.

In the past, one local trader even made up stories saying she had spoken to me and I was going to write a story about how badly Trade Me had treated her. I’d never spoken to her.

However, the good outweighs the bad and for all those people feeling hurt by what has happened, remember that doing a good deed for someone who turns out to be less than honest doesn’t reflect badly on you.

By the way, have you tried to check out the feedback on a disabled Trade Me member today? In the past, if you knew the trader’s membership number, you could go straight to their feedback, or find it by clicking on their name where they had left feedback for someone else. However, it looks like there was a wee change to the site yesterday.

Now, when you try to view their feedback that way, you get a message saying they’ve been disabled, effectively wiping from the site all trace any dodgy dealing they might have been involved in.

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