Tag Archives: catfishing

Training for social media crises can create social media crises

Let’s face it, almost anything we do these days seems to be able to go bad when exposed to the whole world. As I’ve said many times before, social media and digital communications is a two-edged sword: a more powerful tool than ever before to deal with crises and a whole raft of new crisis vulnerabilities.

Take University of Michigan athletics for example. They decided to do some training for their athletes about the dangers of social media. Understandable. It’s clear that many, and its seems especially younger users, often don’t think about the potentials when they tweet or Facebook something. With the Mant Te’o fiasco at Notre Dame, every university administrator must have had cold chills thinking about how the reputation of their institution rested on the wisdom of 18 year olds and what they put on their social media sites. So UofM did some training.

They used their outside contractor to friend or follow the athletes. Then, confronted the athletes with what they discovered on their sites. Some of it apparently was not what the athletes wanted anyone associated with the University to see. However, a blogger heard a presentation by the athletic director and seems to have misunderstood the training. He tweeted and wrote a blog post that said UofM was “catfishing” its own students. I had never heard of catfishing until Manti Te’o showed up. Apparently it is common. Catfishing is when someone on social media pretends to be someone they are not. Social media makes this rather easy. ESPN picked up the blogger’s report and put out a news story that UofM was catfishing its own students.

PLEASE NOTE: social media crises often start when someone says something stupid or wrong on social media and the mainstream media pick it up, and without verifying, amplify it to their audience, often with extra juice intended to attract audiences, which then goes viral and the whole world (including me) starts talking about it.

ESPN got it wrong, the blogger got it wrong. No catfishing, said the university. Just checking up on what their athletes are saying and doing on social media.

But, it got me thinking. I’ve been looking at a powerful tool for conducting social media training exercises developed and offered by one of the top PR firms in the world. (More about that tool later as I delve into this a bit more). But, it occurred to me what risks there might be in conducting drills and exercises. I have warned clients more than once that when they do their risk or vulnerability assessment, including ranking them, be aware of what that will look like when an event happens and attorneys require all their documentation. “Ah, they knew just such a thing would happen and did nothing about it.” These were headlines coming out of the Superdome power outage fiasco. That is one great danger. But merely trying to prepare your organization for big problems, such as product contamination, or an oil spill, can be twisted and turned into nastiness.

Here’s something I’m considering adding to the vulnerability lists of clients: Negative media reports and social media attacks for the training and preparation you are doing to deal with negative media reports and social media attacks.

This world gets stranger and stranger.

Lance, Oprah, Manti T’eo–a weird dishonest world we live in

The last couple of days make me think we are all living in a reality show. Maybe one of those candid camera shows and we are waiting for the “reveal.” Are you kidding me?

-Lance Armstrong–hero to millions, cancer survivor, amazing athlete, founder of a foundation that inspired millions to “live strong,” is nothing but a scheming, pushy, bullying liar who used the courts of law to fiendishly pursue enemies and pretend to be innocent. But, we as a society love to see our icons fall of their pedestals and crash into a million tiny pieces so even though everyone knew he was confessing (finally) and that he is a serial liar of almost the worst sort, the crowd still wanted to see him wiggle around in front of us.

– Oprah Winfrey–desperate to save her $300 million she invested in OWN, and perhaps more important, her reputation as a failure-proof entertainment impresario, “stoops” to feeding the hungry crowd the spectacle of Lance admitting to the world that he’s not worth all the attention he’s been getting. My question: what did she have to offer Lance to get him to help her rescue her failing network?

– Catfishing–a new term to me, but apparently a common activity on the internet of pretending to be someone else to pull cruel, inhumane tricks on other people, such as Notre Dame football stars, and through them, the whole university athletic program.

Manti T-eo, the newest reality TV star and football player who now even the smartest of our journalists can’t figure out if he’s the victim of or perpetrator of fraud, or both. Clearly, even if he is the victim of catfishing, as right now appears to be the case, he is also no victim as he has been caught lying repeatedly about “seeing” his girlfriend and being with her. He may be a victim of cruel hoaxters, but he is far from innocent himself.

This is all too bizarre. There is one common theme to all this. Lying. What strikes me is that the interest shown in these stories show how conflicted we as a society tend to be about the issue of telling the truth. We live in a time where honesty, transparency, truth-telling are held as nearly ultimate values. We are appalled at the sheer degree of lying that someone like Lance Armstrong participated in for many years. He told Oprah he did not think what he was doing was wrong, bad, cheating, or anything like that. In the meantime, he is treating others like dirt and forcing them into similar behavior. This man seems to have no character–yet we seem to be fascinated by him. Oh, the books and articles and blog posts and movies about to come. If he is the scum back he professed to be, why can’t we just leave him struggle with his legal problems in peace?

And catfishing and computer hoaxes. I heard one commentator on the ABC news clip linked above saying in effect this is a natural result of the anonymity of the web–as long as we can hide behind our screens people are going to do that. Yes, but in a time when we demand such an incredible level of honest and transparency from everyone else? What is going on here?

So, we hate lying, we hate liars, but we are endlessly fascinated by them. And the very people who are so outraged by the lack of transparency of the big and powerful are in some cases making a mess of other people’s lives by misusing the anonymity of the web. Maybe I’m the one confused, but this is just not making sense to me.