Fresh dose of social media reality: Prepare for the crisis caused by a hoax


Nevada U.S. Sen. Harry Reid and New Balance running shoes found common ground this week that had nothing to do with working out, something Reid, a former boxer, is known for.

They each were thrown into crisis because of a hoax, a complete fabrication, lies. All the result of social media access and manipulation.

nbProbably the more damaging was the Twitter post yesterday that used the Baltimore rioting as a backdrop and inserted New Balance as “Official sneaker of the 2015 Baltimore looters.”

Somewhere, one idiot thought that was funny enough to take down a whole brand’s reputation with a hoax.

Some people saw it and started ripping the company on Twitter. Company spokespeople responded quickly and assured everyone this was not true. But it took hours to reverse the hoax’s momentum.

Image result for Sen. Harry Reid

For Harry Reid, who for most of the winter wore a bandage over his right eye, the hoax was more personal and briefly just as damaging. A critic of a conservative blog called Power Line, called the blogger to complain. That morphed into pretending the critic witnessed Reid’s brother at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in Nevada bloodied and talking about a fight with a  family member.

The blogger, with some qualifications, went with the story that Reid and his brother had gotten into a major fight, resulting in the senator’s eye injury, plus broken ribs and other injuries Reid [secretively] had not divulged.

Given what passes for political misbehavior these days, this would not have led to any real problems for the former Senate majority leader, even if it were true. But to have your family depicted that way is no joy. The critic/blogger source said he wanted to embarrass the conservative blogger and show how poor his ethics were. This only raises a question about whether ethics are relative. A hoax is a hoax.

There are obvious lessons here for the rest of us, and they’re all scary. Most of us can understand a “legitimate” crisis caused by a natural disaster, embezzlement, theft, malfeasance, carelessness, or even stupidity. But when one individual, seeing a picture of a man wearing New Balance walking past a burning building, can fabricate that into a corporate takedown, no one is safe.

New Balance reacted quickly and effectively and turned the mess into a crisis of hours, not days. And the most relevant measure of crisis management is time containment and duration.

But we’re years past the days when someone with the New Balance takedown idea called a newspaper, radio or television reporter and tried to peddle lies. Those reporters, if it even got that far, would have called the company for comment and confirmation and never done a story.

These days we believe almost anything we see on social media — in Reid’s case the Las Vegas Sun actually unmasked the hoaxer/AA source — and one person can throw whole companies off their game. Think about stock price manipulation; CEO removal plots; potential criminal charges; consumer boycotts; and on and on.

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 and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with eight offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. 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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