Social Judge, Jury & Executioner: A National Tragedy

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The  Social Sphere  rode a roller coaster of emotions this week;  amidst an horrific, cowardly, terrorist act in my former and beloved hometown, we used the social networks to follow the unfolding tragedy.

On Tuesday I found out about the Boston Marathon explosion while on a business call; Hessie Jones emailed me, knowing my connection to Boston and how concerned we all were.  Like millions of us, I went right to Twitter – my news source for of-the-minute events.

What I found was a tremendous amount of concern, and of course #BostonMarathon trending.

Because ArCompany’s Sunday blog is focused on Social Judge, Jury & Executioner, we watch any kind of news or PR occurrence with a hyper sensitive eye; will the social bubble work on the side of good and help expose truth, or will it rush to judgment and condemn without evidence?

The Good: We Held It Together

This week, there was a high degree of caution in the ‘social bubble;’’ at least in the early days.  For the most part, the day of and then days after the tragedy, we held our tongues, offered condolences, and pleaded for Bostonians who didn’t NEED to be online to get off and leave the bandwidth and cell phone airwaves for those in need.

I was amazed and, not to sound too patronizing, proud of the incredible restraint I witnessed. There were few instantaneous calls for revenge, and an air of patience.

Sadly, America has been through too many ghastly tragedies in recent years – perhaps we have found a more mature way of dealing with them as we wait to find out what really happened.  This time, our outpouring of emotion was in condolence with the victims and in support of the many heroes.

My favorite quote appearing all over the web was from Mr. Rogers:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.

The Bad: A Few Attempts at Social Hijacking

If you’re a CMO or in charge of social content, staying on top of instant trends is a good thing; Oreo’s  whip smart social team did a superb job during the Super Bowl.  We have also seen companies misuse a tragedy to try to hype their own product; it doesn’t work.

Sadly, this tragedy was no different.  Sam Fiorella called the Newsjackers out immediately on his blog.  Most companies understood that this was a time to refrain from self promotion… but there will  always be those few.

The Ugly: A Marketing Juggernaut Fumbles Badly

Guy Kawasaki is a marketing legend.  If you’ve read anything about marketing over the past couple of decades, you know who he is.  He was a Social Media early adopter, an often kind guy with a HUGE following.  But man, did he screw up this week.

Most Marketers agree that in times of tragedy, shutting off auto-tweets is a best practice; any brand appearing to be insensitive when something unspeakable has occurred is making a major PR faux pas.  On my Small Business page I cautioned my followers to consider what they were posting at such a tense time, and most appeared to appreciate it.

When followers of Guy Kawasaki tweeted that he should shut his auto stream down, he responded to one with a regrettably arrogant reply:

ArCompany Social Media Justice

As you may know, we are in line with the Brown/Fiorella thought on what Influence is, and we do not measure it simply on the number of followers.  Guy should know better than to measure advice based on the number of followers the adviser had, and he certainly should have known there would be a bad reaction to his arrogant tweet.

The social world did not show restraint in letting Guy hear what they thought about both his automated tweeting AND his snarky tweet.

Steve Crescenzo wrote a scathing piece on Ragan.com  that was also picked up by PR Daily. I don’t disagree with Steven’s basic premise, but he took a little too much glee in tearing Kawaskai down.

Perhaps we had all held our tongues for too long while tensions mounted over the tragedy in Boston; Steve was not alone. Margie Clayman wrote a softer, more thoughtful post about the subject on her blog.

Here’s our take: Guy was wrong.  Period.  And we would advise ANY client to turn off the auto feed when a tragedy happens, but, he didn’t kill anyone.

Deep breath. Perspective.  

I try not to judge harshly on the basis of one misguided tweet, so I  would merely  point Guy Kawasaki in the direction of a phenomenal post by Lindsay Bell Wheeler over on Spin Sucks about Humility and Leadership.  I think he should read it more than once.

Social ‘Evidence’ Comes to the Surface

Monday and Tuesday saw the social channels showing much restraint; but on Wednesday some scary images started to appear.  An image on Imgur.com  shows what might have been a connection between the remains of the exploded bag and a backpack a dark haired man was carrying in the crowd earlier.

My heart went to my throat: how many thousands of grey and black backpacks are in the city of Boston on any given day?  Who is the ‘expert’ who gets to decide that this image is accurate?  Oh no I thought, here we go.

On Thursday official pictures surfaced of a DIFFERENT man that was supposedly the suspect .

I’d already got ahead of myself with wishful thinking when reports of a suspect in custody littered my Twitter feed.  Then, almost as suddenly, there were bomb threats on the Federal Courthouse in Boston and another threat at Brigham and Womens Hospital; both were evacuated.

It seemed, as it does when we’re learning about these tragedies, that the whole world had gone mad.  Then came the tweets that no, indeed a suspect had not been arrested – traditional and online reporters had gotten it wrong.

Even more frightening were the initial images and reporting, in particular by The Post, that got the images wrong and stirred up a lot of anger and bigotry.  The Post went as far as putting pictures of 2 ‘suspects’ on the front page of the paper; it turns out that the two were innocent spectators.

Gawker tells that story in detail.  Sadly, the errors in Social Dective Work didn’t stop there; the BBC covered the mishaps thoroughly in this post.

They Ask For Our Help

As I monitored the situation hoping that social lynch mobs would not arise, the FBI turned to social media for help, and the Boston Police department tweeted a request for help in identifying 2 individuals with a contact number. The FBI’s photo image of the suspects had been shared over 31,000 times by Friday morning.

I’d followed the story late into Thursday evening, and by the time I awoke on Friday one of the suspects was dead and the city of Boston was on lock down. Because of the rapid fire communication between reporting on the scene and social media, we knew within moments where the search was leading.

They Ask Us To Stop

On Friday morning, as the police were on a manhunt for the second suspect, they had to ask the social stream to go quiet.  As they searched door to door, people were actually tweeting what house they were at.  There were countless pictures and live video not only from professional reporters, but from people who were ‘sheltering,’ as directed by the Watertown police department, in their homes.

You Can’t Hide Anymore

The Boston Marathon tragedy and the chase to find the guilty was called the first Crowd-Sourced Investigation.  Whether that is a good or bad thing is being debated as we speak.

As marketers we get caught up with both the power and responsibility of Social Media; this blog series itself is focused on exploring what happens when the mass that is the social mob becomes the Judge, Jury & Executioner of both PR and Real Life disasters.

We worry that at some point a picture of a ‘suspect’ or alleged guilty person will lead to vigilantism.  This week has taught me that, although my concerns may be well founded, social media provides a level of  transparency that makes it impossible for evil to hide like it once did.

From the images immediately after the marathon explosions of people rushing TOWARD the bombs to help, to the world wide effort to distribute and publicize images from that day, the social world provided law enforcement with instant and overwhelming amount of help.

Did many get it wrong? Absolutely.

But, as the police in Boston suggested it would early on, the bombers were found in pictures that were taken innocently by spectators.  Once the suspects were identified, their images were spread all over the web and there was no where to hide.

THAT can only be seen as a positive.

VP of Content & Strategy at ArCompany. She has an extensive background in Sales, and focuses on generational marketing and content. With Hessie Jones she founded ArCompany’s Millnnnial, GenX and Boomer Think Tanks and writes and speaks on those topics from an insights/strategy perspective.

0 thoughts on “Social Judge, Jury & Executioner: A National Tragedy

  1. Danny Brown says:

    Great analysis, Amy. The brand-jacking aspect in particular pisses me off, and is sad to see. One of the VC’s behind Storify took advantage with a tweet. Never mind the fact there were as many inaccurate examples on their platform when it came to the suspects; I guess the opportunity to shove your message down peoples’ throats bypasses decency. 
    https://twitter.com/vkhosla/status/325272178146824192

    • AmyMccTobin says:

      Yes Danny, yesterday I called out quite a few people trying to market their technology for use when following multiple outlets during a tragedy. Hey, I know these platforms are useful but good lord, is there no decency.

  2. hessiej says:

    Amy, your post was thought-provoking. One thing to add: as much as social creates an environment of prejudgements and speculation– more often that not, profiling and negatively implicating groups – it also brings about the contrary views that help balance out opinion among the masses. I especially like the post that Dave Fleet posted on Facebook this morning: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/04/the-boston-bombers-were-muslim-it-shouldnt-matter-this-is-why-it-does/275154/.  The voices of many weigh in and forces us to prevent casting a wide net against a group or culture. I was angered this week when one senator announced that America needed to rethink or review its immigration policies. But I was relieved when I saw others who weighed in on both sides of the fence looking to judge the circumstanced based on a variety of factors, not just race and religion.

  3. bowden2bowden says:

    Insightful Amy and appreciated, sadly I believe that many in our modern society show little concern and sensitivity. The space allows for anyone to broadcast, distort, pretend and justify…both from the established and non!

    • AmyMccTobin says:

      Thanks Randy. Yes, I was very concerned when The Post put up pictures that had been quickly found to NOT be the suspects. Even worse were comments on their blog that were hate filled and racist.
      We have great responsibility when “investigating” via social media.

  4. phdinparenting says:

    DenVan So it is more complex than just “horribly”.

  5. I have mixed feelings on some of this. yes Guy K. is an arrogant dickwad. From running twitter feeds for two clients I have found some super smart peole under the radar. Folks with very small networks who tweet a lot but more as a form of SMS to each other than reaching out to the world.
    But the auto tweeting I have no problem with, No one came down on the Cable and TV stations and all the brand commercial playing. No one beat up the newspaers for allowing print ads the next day. No one threw a fit over all the digital ads still being served all over the net. Why is social different?
    As for the FBI asking for help I felt retweeting the photos of the sustpects was good no matter where in the US the account was based. Because social is a world wide network of people for all I know tweeting to people in LA could be sent to someone in Boston and make a difference.
    As for the staying quiet on social channels these unks aren’t sophisticated and seriously how could the find the so called olice scanner tweets? I doubt they had any cell access one on the run. I felt that was over blown. Technically nothing being said on Twitter or Facebook couldn’t be found via the news outlets.
    Now the social hijacking was bullshit. And I did find it really cool the authorities when to the social sphere the same way they use teh highway sign networks for amber alerts. It is a new day huh 8)

    • Danny Brown says:

      Howie Goldfarb For me, it’s not the automation. Yes, it’d be nice to suspend out of respect, or change up to share information that could help. But his response was pure arrogance, and deserving of the backlash he received.

      • AmyMccTobin says:

        Danny Brown Howie Goldfarb Yep – I’m with Danny. I would personally turn off my autotweeting THE DAY of the tragedy while it was unfolding – not simply out of respect for the tragedy, but because it’s bad marketing.  People on Twitter searching for news of the chase were distracted and/or annoyed/offended by promotional tweets. But Guy’s response is what got the backlast – Danny’s right.

        • AmyMccTobin Danny Brown I think Danny might know a bit of my history with Guy?  Goes back to 2009ish actually. Business Week published a people paid to tweet. Kim Kardashian was getting $10K. He was getting $800. I was new to Twitter. He was a 5 to follow by Ad Age. So I did. His feed was spam all links to AllTop. After reading the article I asked him if he was a paid tweeter since I couldn’t tell. He never responded so I unfollowed him. About a year later he popped in on a blog post comment thread because everyone laughed at my comment. I told him my issue he denied ever being paid to tweet.

          Which is why I always say ‘Who is Guy Kawasaki’. From what I understand he doesn’t do his tweeting he has a team he pays to tweet for him and has since back then. So dick yes.

        • AmyMccTobin says:

          Howie Goldfarb AmyMccTobin Danny Brown Funny thing – since I start talking about this Tweet, I’ve found lots and lots of people who have had issues with Guy.

        • Danny Brown says:

          AmyMccTobin Howie Goldfarb Ironically, reading some blog posts and comments from folks who feel he was hard done by via the “social media expert lynch mob”. 
          Because, yes, opinion isn’t a good thing and we should all live in cherry blossom fields of ignorant bliss.

        • AmyMccTobin says:

          Danny Brown AmyMccTobin Howie Goldfarb That’s why I came to work at ArCompany.  hessiej promised me cherry blossom fields… although I knew right away she was up to something, because cherry blossoms grown on TREES.

        • hessiej says:

          AmyMccTobin Danny Brown Howie Goldfarb What’s this about Cherry blossoms today? I found David Svet posted this this morning? http://mindthegappr.com/ann-sense-blog/monday-morning-ann-sense-breaking-news-self-promotion-and-cherry-blossoms/

  6. AmyMccTobin says:

    howiegoldfarb ArCIntel Thanks Howie! That was an emotionally exhausting one…

    • howiegoldfarb says:

      AmyMccTobin ArCIntel what was worse was clicking to samfiorella ‘s post and learning what a jerk erikrush is.

  7. AmyMccTobin says:

    belllindsay ArCIntel Thanx!

    • belllindsay says:

      AmyMccTobin ArCIntel Great article Amy!! As I said on FB, love how you did the whole rundown of the week.

  8. […] many, and sent the Twitterverse into a play-by-play tracking of the search for the suspects; we covered it all here last week […]

  9. […] far, we’ve covered the social media events surrounding the Boston Tragedy in A National Tragedy ; the dark side of social in the Steubenville Rape and the Rahteah Parsons Tragedy, and, […]

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