Social Judge, Jury and Executioner: The Lynch Mob in Action
Our concern about the injustice often practiced via the social media mob mentality was the motivation for this blog series from its inception.
Each week we analyze an instance, whether it is targeted at an individual or a brand, of social media trying a ‘case’ online and labeling a party guilty, or rarely, innocent. We don’t watch these cases with a voyeur’s appetite, but because we are professional marketers who believe in the power and mostly untapped potential of social media.
We advocate for a professional standard of best practices because we understand that the social mob is not only dangerous and unjust, it is very bad for business.
Stories of Social Media as Judge, Jury and Executioner occur each week; we are never at a loss for content.
This week we are focused on a story of a personality, a personal brand, and numerous almost-victims of the mob. Our aim is not to prosecute, but to explain and advocate for patience, a deep breath, and higher professional standards.
A Tragedy Brings out the Best and Worst
On Monday, April 15th, the bombs that went off at the Boston Marathon killed 3, maimed many, and sent the Twitterverse into a play-by-play tracking of the search for the suspects; we covered it all here last week .
In times of heightened emotion, the exchanges within social media often become tense. On April 19th, Jure Klepic posted the following on his personal Facebook Account:
Jure Klepic is a renowned social media innovator and business consultant and Huffington Post blogger, and he IS known for being outspoken. Tim McDonald, the Community Manager for Huffington Post and a Facebook friend of Klepic’s, shared it in on his own page in agreement.
In the interest of transparency I will tell you that I know Jure on a professional and personal level. Tim McDonald and I were both very involved in the 12Most Community where I was an Editor for a period, although I’ve never met Tim in real life.
I do not know Dabney Porte personally, but I have been aware of her 2 Twitter Communities on #SMManners and #SMGirlfriends for years. In the former community, Dabney focuses on Social Media Manners.
The Debate on Professional Practices Needs to Take Place
There has been much discussion amongst Social Marketers over how to handle a tragedy on the networks; Jure obviously felt that Dabney’s use of the #Boston hashtag to talk about gaining new followers was offensive.
He got quite a few likes on his post, and when McDonald shared it on his own page he did so with the statement that if a brand had used the #Boston hashtag in such a way they would be criticized roundly. He mentioned Kenneth Cole using the #Cairo hashtag during the Arab Spring uprisings as an example of brands suffering a major backlash by Social Media users for abusing a very sensitive tragedy for self promotion.
Klepic and McDonald both saw Porte’s use of the #Boston hashtag as an abuse of a tragedy for her own self promotion.
Facebook Mucks it Up Again
Facebook raised the level of confusion when they removed Klepic’s post from his personal wall.
Their statement to him was that because Porte is an individual, she could not be attacked or judged in that way; apart from the initial post the dialogue in the comment section apparently became disparaging of Dabney.
I did not see nor can I locate a screen shot of that segment. After Facebook told Klepic that he could not use Porte’s personal image, he reposted the same tweet, covering Dabney’s face with an avatar of Ms. Piggy, and to my knowledge THAT post still stands.
We do not condone the Ms Piggy imagery; the debate is a healthy one without the personal slights. However, we do question Facebook’s rational on why the real imagery was bad, but the fake one acceptable?
Our confusion on Facebook’s stance that Porte is an ‘individual’ is compounded by the fact that she runs two Twitter Communities that she monetizes; she makes her living off of social media.
Is she a brand or a person in that case? Apparently Facebook sees her as an individual.
I am baffled by Facebook’s stance because of a personal experience. Last year while I was President of a nonprofit, volunteer Board, I had a small group of people I had never met attacking my Association for a variety of things that had to do with the politics of our highly passionate group of alumni of Milton Hershey School. Instead of attacking the Association, this group posted pictures of me that they photo-shopped with vulgar, misogynist connotations.
They created cartoons that implied similar things. When I reported them to Facebook, repeatedly, Facebook refused to remove them due to their stance on ‘free speech.’
I have had countless conversations with others who have experienced similar feedback; this confusion is widespread, and we would very much like clarification by Facebook on what is protected and what is not.
The Mob Steps In to Defend and Attack
The initial post made by Jure Klepic and then shared by Tim McDonald on their personal page made its way out of Facebook quickly.
Followers of Dabney Porte got ahold of it and went on the offensive in the name of defending their leader. However, instead of only attacking Klepic and McDonald on Twitter, they went after Jure’s position as a Huffington Post writer, and they went after Tim’s job.
This is one snippet of the tweets going out with the #HuffingtonPost and Huffington Post and Arriana Huffington:
In addition, a couple of the more fervent ‘defenders’ attacked two people who simply Liked Jure’s original post.
They dredged up an embarrassing personal mistake by one person who simply liked the initial post condemning the hashtag use, and started tweeting disparaging things to NBC, apparently thinking one individual was employed by them:
I spoke to the target of this tweet, as well as others, and I can tell you that the common response is that they were afraid to respond because they didn’t want to make it worse.
There were so many unknown attackers coming after them, again and again, trying to destroy their reputation, that they thought it best to just go silent. That very silence is the inspiration for this post; debates and arguments will happen on the social channels – just like in real life.
But when people are attacked for a simple like and fear losing their income and reputation, its gone too far. We need a dialogue on proper rules of engagement.
The Definition of Bullying
The sadly ironic twist is, of course, that Dabney Porte’s ‘defenders’ labeled Jure Klepic, Tim McDonald and the people who liked the original post bullies. In these times that word has powerful connotations, and we need to examine what a bully is.
Was Jure Klepic’s original post calling out what he thought was distasteful marketing bullying? My answer is a resounding NO.
I find, too often, that ‘we,’ as in the social media marketing community, look the other way when our peers use questionable and unethical tactics. By standing silently, we have allowed the profession itself to suffer from a reputation standpoint.
Was the attack that occurred against Klepic, McDonald and the other ‘likers’ bullying disguised as an attack against bullying? When one tweeter unrelated to the incident asked @justinliams that question, his response was that he was bullied as a child and the only way to beat the bullies was to come back stronger than they did.
So, in that line of thinking, anything, including their jobs, is fair game. THIS is the mob mentality that we find so dangerous.
Did Dabney Porte deserve to be personally attacked with the Ms Piggy avatar or other comments about her appearance for using the #Boston hashtag for self promotion during the tragedy? No, but I don’t think Klepics original post was a personal attack, but rather a statement on marketing tactics. And his original post is what the mob went after him for.
Going after someone’s job the way Porte’s followers went after Tim McDonald’s is the definition of bullying.
The Debate That SHOULD Have Ensued
Instead of the Twitter rampage that occurred, what SHOULD have happened next was a professional debate on hashtag use and what the proper uses of it are in times of tragic loss; social media IS still in the very early stages, and a healthy discussion on proper behavior is necessary.
Many people don’t understand the ‘unwritten ground rules.’ It gets especially tricky among those who market and monetize their communities.
Jure Klepic, Tim McDonald, and Dabney Porte ALL make their living off of Social Media, their communities, and their expertise. I would have appreciated seeing Dabney Porte and her supporters explain how they thought they were using the #Boston hashtag and why they believed it was justified.
Sadly, but not unexpectedly, that is not what happened, so instead we’d like to have that debate here.
The Professional Questions
There are questions that need to be answered for us to move past the mob mentality and operate as an ethical profession. Here are the most pressing ones:
What is a Personal Brand and how is it different than a Corporate Brand? What are best practices for both in times of heightened tension?
What is protected speech, and what is bullying?
What are the best practice rules for hashtag use during a tragedy?
What about scheduled tweets/posts? Do you turn them off during a tragedy?
Where do we draw the line when we seek ‘social justice?
There are two key issues I see that hinder the Social Media Profession:
a) the tendency to Group think and react harshly to even polite professional dissent, and
b) the fact that many early adapters to the medium (i.e. many of those with huge followings) did not have strong business experience before finding social media.
In the corporate world you need to learn to negotiate delicate questions of territory and leadership. Those who have strong managerial experience learn that they must become masters of selling their ideas; there is no crying ‘bullying’ when your counterpart out-negotiates you.
Robert Caruso is one of the few thought leaders in the social space who is regularly willing to call out unethical or questionable practices by Social Marketers. I contacted Robert to get his feedback on these type of blow ups and he had what I thought was the finest quote on the subject:
Social Professionals need to lead and teach, not ignore and hammer.
If the professionals are not leading the way then the mob will most certainly take whatever path they deem is the one to justice.
I am sure that this post will stir up a lot of emotions both for and against the participants in this incident, but my hope is that it will also stir up a healthy debate that can serve as a guideline for how we behave in times of tragedy, and for how we handle the disagreements that ensue.
Update May 1 2013. When this post was originally published, it led to a healthy debate around the topic being discussed. Parties from both “sides” of the conversation exchanged thoughtful and mature commentary with each other. Unfortunately, that started to disappear and personal agendas were brought into the conversation, as well as non-topic discussions. Therefore, the comments are now closed to ensure further personal agendas are not promoted in any way via our forum. Thank you to those who brought adult and considerate points of view to the table, we appreciate it.