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By Lisa Carter, Consultant

In the midst of a Twitter meltdown over the deaths of two horses during the Melbourne Cup carnival, SAS Media Consultant Lisa Carter takes a look at getting caught in a social media warzone.

Since Myspace took the world by storm back in 2003 (yes, it really was more than a decade ago), social media and networking sites have revolutionised the way we learn about life, discover the world, communicate with each other, mobilise the masses, the way we do business, and of course, the way we consume news and current events. It’s a rare business that can afford to ignore these unprecedented business opportunities.

But this explosion in access has also given people a much less complicated avenue to vent their anger. So what do you do when public outrage singles you out, and begins dismantling your hard-earned reputation?

Following the tragic deaths of two horses in this year’s Melbourne Cup, the online world was ablaze with outrage and debate, and unfortunately, a seemingly endless tirade of abuse and bullying. News and commentary websites poured more fuel on the fire with pages devoted to coverage (and of course, conjecture), such as Mamamia.com.au’s opinion piece entitled, “The race that stopped a nation killed 2 horses. And I was part of it.” Attached were further pages filled with comments from outraged readers supporting the writer’s horror at being part of the office sweepstakes, and then filled with comments from readers outraged at the comments made by those who were outraged. Confused? In a nutshell, media outlets and social media participants right across the country took aim squarely at the Victoria Racing Club, and its esteemed annual Melbourne Cup carnival.

Within mere hours of the VRC debacle hitting the news, images of Sunrise reporter Samantha Brett doing a live cross in the hours preceding the funeral of former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam were doing the rounds, alongside some incredibly nasty commentary on what a certain media outlet dubbed her ‘boobie blue dress’. It prompted a backlash from the keyboard warriors hastening to point out her alleged blunder – wearing a bright blue frock with mesh overlay that some deemed distasteful. (Although those trusty Facebookers came to the rescue with a wave of support).

In days of old however, the sartorial choices of our reporters and newsreaders would pass or fail the simple ‘lounge room test’. The odd outfit faux pas would warrant a subtle eyebrow raise or passing comment between those watching the news at home, and then everyone would be on their merry way to do things infinitely more productive than posting their furious disapproval.

And the sad deaths of two racehorses would make the front page of the next day’s newspapers, thus dictating the morning’s topic of debate as we gathered around the proverbial watercooler. Some people would be upset, some would think it inevitable and others wouldn’t care. We’d discuss the events of the previous day with passion, but would rarely engage in the outright nastiness that’s become so commonplace in online discussions. After all, these people were our colleagues and friends. We knew that so-and-so was getting divorced, and such-and-such’s mother had cancer, so why on earth would we want to intentionally provoke them into a heated debate about issues beyond our control?

Back to 2014 and we have discovered only too well that the ‘haters are gonna hate’ - out there in force posting comments about people they’ve never met, organisations they have limited knowledge of, and celebrities whose lives seem like nothing but sunshine and roses.

This negative discourse is almost guaranteed to escalate as more and more people chime in. It can be exhausting, destructive and downright dangerous.

David Auerbach sums the situation up beautifully in his recent article for web magazine Slate entitled, “Twitter is broken”. He says, “From mere faux pas to outright harassment, Twitter increasingly acts as a pressure cooker for the worst of humanity….it stresses conflict over consensus. It rewards trolling instead of reasoned debate. {It’s} the best place to hurl abuse and get noticed for it”. He writes about how its construction has made it inevitable that everyday discourse gets ugly fast on Twitter.

But you can minimise the risk of these scenarios with a little know-how. At SAS Media, we believe that preparation is the key to avoiding an escalating social media war. We help our clients navigate successfully through the potential dangers of using social media by addressing the potential threats thoroughly before they have the opportunity to arise. We help our clients to understand not only what to post (and what not to post), but also when, how and where to post. We help them create social media content that is widely-appealing, informative and effective without being inflammatory. We devise strategic social media management plans and incorporate them into our training workshops. Most of all, we are always on call, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in the event that a Twitter warzone erupts and your business gets caught in the crossfire.

Because as we’ve seen only too well, a reputation can take decades to build, but when it comes to social media, it can take mere moments to destroy. Contact us to find out how we can help you.

 

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