False accusations, pumped by social media, create as much of a crisis as real ones


In the wake of George Zimmerman’s acquittal. on charges he killed Trayvon Martin, anger overflowed into the streets and people looked for scapegoats: Prosecutors overreached. Police bungled the investigation. The defense cheated. Florida has bad laws.

And social media lit up with reports that the conservative Koch Brothers paid for Zimmerman’s defense. That then led to calls for a boycott of the products of their paper products, part of Koch Industries.

For many companies this would form a major crisis. With the power of social media, boycotts can go viral and millions and millions of people can become involved in a matter of days.

Even for a privately held conglomerate with diversified interests in consumer household goods, energy, chemicals, mining and pipelines, this can have an impact, although one can’t imagine David H. Koch and Charles G. Koch worrying much about it. They run the second-largest family owned company in America.

But what if the Koch Brothers didn’t pay for Zimmerman’s defense? What if this was all a series of assumptions and social media lust to pass on incorrect information and conspiracy theories. EMA’s very attentive graphics guru Jessica Black passed on this work of the “interweb,” a new term for my vocabulary. These are dark places where rumors grow like mushrooms before they see the light of day.

It turns out that the Koch Brothers did not pay for Zimmerman’s defense. And while that false rumor may not bring Koch Industries to a grinding halt, the reliance on and involvement with social media for hundreds of millions of people offers the potential to cost even enormous companies huge chunks of hard-won market share.

EMA’s original crisis management chief, Peter Kapcio, actually wrote about this in 2008. He called it the “hint” of scandal. No longer do most media, and more so everyday people, feel responsibility to verify facts they accumulate and disseminate. Reporting rumors is now acceptable. Trafficking in fiction actually has few penalties.

This makes a crisis not only more likely to occur, but harder to contain and squelch because people feel little responsibility about passing on lies as truth.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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One Response to False accusations, pumped by social media, create as much of a crisis as real ones

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