Social media leaves no time for sober second thought • Troy Media

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“I’m on schedule! shouts the harassed journalist. It’s a euphemism for “I’m very busy”.

There were also literal deadlines.

An old fashioned newspaper went “to bed” because the printing press was bolted to the floor on what was called the “bed”. The presses began to turn in time to get the newspaper out. It took heartbreaking news to shout “Stop the presses”.

A competent public relations person would know the deadlines of a morning or afternoon newspaper and decide how quickly it should respond. Radio reporters had to file their stories in time for taping and editing – 10 minutes before the newscast. The presenter had to be in the studio five minutes before the newscast. On television, editing, visual selection, story alignment, and timing to the second pushed deadlines to at least half an hour before airtime.

Today, deadlines are all the time. All media is all media. Radio and television have websites that look like newspapers. Newspapers have audio and video content on the web that looks and sounds like radio and television.

I emailed a top reporter from a national newspaper and saw the story appear in the online edition within minutes. There is no editor or even a second thought by the reporter.

Then there is social media. A while ago I was dealing with a case of sexual abuse at school, and the school principal reminded me that most of the affected class were on social media and the story could do the around the world instantly at any time. So I was managing a crisis with quite a bit of time between publishing the story and calling in the reporters.

This all leads to research by Annelie Schmittel and Kevin Hull, published in the Journal of Sports Media. They investigated the alleged bullying of Miami Dolphins Richie Incognito. Their work reveals emerging principles of old and new media response to a reputational attack. On Twitter, strategies include “victimization, obstruction, and attacking the accuser.” Exposing the critics appears as a tactic to discredit them or shift the focus of the story.

In old or traditional media, the techniques are: “Dismiss blame, good intentions and reinforce”. You can imagine the talk – I’m the real victim, my victim deserved it, everyone does this, I was just teasing a homie, and I’m a really good guy doing charity work. There are sub-themes such as “it was all caused by someone else…an accident…has less impact than suggested…offer compensation…” and so on.

So what do we really know about responding to the crisis with social media and without delay? Web 2.0 allows for “full message control”. Even being instantly harassed on Twitter can create sympathy for the bully. Famous people have a lot of followers, and using a hashtag and getting re-Tweets can create a wave of support for the author.

All actors – victims, perpetrators, fans and journalists act and react instantly and in real time in all media.

Allan Bonner was the first North American to earn a master’s degree in risk, crisis and disaster management. He was trained in England and worked in the field on five continents for 35 years. His latest book is Emergency! – a monograph with 13 other authors on the many crises that occurred during the pandemic.

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The opinions expressed by our columnists and contributors are their own and do not inherently or expressly reflect the opinions of our publication.

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Troy Media is an editorial content provider for news outlets and its own hosted community media across Canada.


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