Tag Archives: digital mob

Maneuvering in the age of hypersensitivity–thoughts on Edelman and others

What will be the impact of trying to communicate in a hyper-sensitive world? Will communications from companies, organizations and individuals become so cautious, so lowest common denominator that we will lose the vitality of honest expression and open debate?

That’s the question that comes to me as I read about the firestorm around Edelman’s post following the suicide of Robin Williams. How can such a thing create such protest? Can anyone say anything without ticking someone off enough to light the fire?

The fact is we are more connected to anyone and everyone than ever. The power of the word–written or spoken–increases with the exposure and the network effect dramatically increases the exposure. So, certainly there is greater opportunity than ever to find someone who doesn’t like what we say. And they also have the power of the network effect. Add to that the natural attraction we all have to expressed rage (note today’s media) and the advantage goes to those most p-d off.

The trouble with this is in part made clear by PR Weeks blogger, Steve Barrett, who in the article on Edelman’s blog, raises the question about whether PR companies should work for big oil, big pharma or big finance. Give me a break!

Sure, there are a lot of people out there, particularly the digital mob, who hate nearly everything big and powerful and who would love to see a world without big oil, big pharma and big finance. They don’t give a thought how’d they’d keep the lights on or power to the socket that juices up their smartphones that enables them to express rage against the ones providing that power. And when they get sick and really need that pill, seems they don’t think to evaluate their narrow-minded perspective. These may not be the folks who when their start-up gets going need some serious underwriting, so they can be free to trash big finance.

The fact is all these evil biggies contribute significantly to our world even while their reputations seem to continually decline. Barrett points out that big oil represents as much as 15% of PR spending. I got to say, what is this buying them? If ever big oil and other biggies needed great PR its now. Instead in a publication like PR Week we have the question whether it is wise, or presumably ethical, for a PR firm to even work for them.

It’s my hope the fear of offending doesn’t stop companies and people from speaking out. Next time Edelman’s senior staff thinks about a blog post, and anyone else watching this issue, they will no doubt ask themselves: who will this tick off? Chances are they will work to not be offensive. After all, who needs this kind of trouble. They may even decide not to blog at all on this important topic of mental illness and suicide. And that is not a good thing.

Hooray for those not cowed by the digital mob and their hypersensitivity.


Beginning of the end of nasty anonymous comments?

Arianna Huffington announced that Huffpost is moving toward eliminating anonymous comments. This is remarkable given the high level of commenting activity on the popular news site.

It is well known and often remarked about how the civility of our society has been degraded by the Internet–well, not the Internet, the amazing number of people who are rude, nasty, impolite, over-opinionated, and downright ugly. I read a recent academic paper (sorry, lost the reference) which linked the quite dramatic loss of trust in government in part to the sheer nastiness and extreme partisanship of our online conversation. I was conducting a workshop yesterday when one participant commented that the Internet created essentially a global small community which is true, but, unfortunately this quaint little town we live in called the Internet seems to have been overtaken by the most vulgar, inarticulate and cynical citizens of the planet.

(Do you have any idea yet how I feel about the Internet nastiness?)

That’s why I heartily welcome this move by HuffPost as well as the rapidly emerging trend of requiring users to sign in using their Facebook or Twitter accounts. It simplifies sign-ons and does make it a bit harder to hide, although Twitter to best of my knowledge still allows people to hide behind anonymity (such as @theeviltweeter).

Anonymous comments represents a dilemma for organizations wanting to use interactive tools during a crisis or emergency. It makes it harder to verify online information that could be important for emergency response. It makes it more challenging to determine actual sentiment. It poses the dilemma of whether or not to delete comments or end a nasty thread, thereby entering into the conversation in a controlling way which is anathema to the digital mob. What is particularly great about HuffPost requiring actual identities, if they indeed do this, is it may turn into a trend and certainly something organizations experiencing the nastiness to also eliminate anonymous comments with the statement that HuffPost does it.