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Don Roach: Welcome to the Era of Social Media Wars

Wednesday, December 25, 2013


Merry Christmas, Rhode Island. We. Are. At. War.

For you political junkies who must pry yourselves away from your family and friends to read GoLocal today (thank you!), I’m not bringing tidings of joy or stories of reindeer-riding, toy-giving superheroes. Instead, I need to let you all know that we are in a war for our lives.

I am not talking about Iraq, Afghanistan, or anywhere else our physical troops are stationed. No, if the past six months have taught me anything our new battlefields are located on the “interwebs”. Today, we battle at places like Twitter, Facebook, and Change.Org.

And so in case you didn’t know, I would like to welcome you to the dawn of the Social Media Wars (SMW).

The battleground that is Social Media

It’s being called the “Tweet Heard Round the World”, but this past week a PR exec, Justine Sacco sent a tweet out before heading to Africa saying “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” There are so many stereotypes, biases, and misinformed logic in those approximately 64 characters it’s funny. However, Sacco’s employer and Twitterverse were doing anything but laughing in response.

Once the tweet was sent out, it set off a firestorm of criticism. To show how insane things have become, one twitter user actually posted an alleged picture of Sacco as she arrived at the South African airport , less than 24 hours after Sacco’s initial tweet. Let’s review, a non-celebrity woman is flying to Africa from the US, has a great job, and sends an ‘I’m off to the airport’ tweet. Less than a day later when she lands in Africa, hundreds of thousands of people know her name and what she looks like, and she’s being scoped out at the airport by some random dude! I hope I’m not the only person a bit creeped out by this. Oh, and I failed to mention the most significant aspect of this, she was fired between the time she tweeted and landed at the airport!

The moral of the story is this, if you have “offensive” – and I use the quotes purposely – views, keep them to yourself and don’t post on any Social Media sites because you might get fired. Regardless of whether you believe her employer or Twitterverse were justified in their response, we are seeing that with our 21st century methods of communicating with one another, that we’re responding, reacting, and taking action through social media. Our actions in these places have real world consequences. A few years ago who would have conceived writing a random thought on the internet would lead to losing your job and hundreds of thousands of people judging you based off one comment.

But that’s the world we live in today.

Duck Dynasty exposes the culture war

If what happened to Sacco was akin to a mob beat down of an unsuspecting pedestrian, the fallout from Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame and his comments about gays, Japanese, and black people is more akin to a conventional battle. In this case, a tweet was not the initial salvo and instead Robertson’s comments were made as a part of interview with GQ magazine . His employer, cable television station A&E, responded by suspending him from his television show which is one of the highest rated cable television shows on air today (don’t ask me why). Consider Robertson’s comments and A&E’s response the initial artillery attack. The infantry came next as Twitter, Facebook, and change.org lit up like a Christmas tree. People who agreed with Robertson numbered in the millions. People who disagreed with Robertson numbered in the millions. Back and forth the groups went in decrying his comments or defending them via tweets(1) and(2), Facebook Pages, and change.org petitions . One company that entered the fray and quickly backpedaled was Cracker Barrel. The restaurant chain decided to pull some Duck Dynasty items from their shelves . Less than 24 hours later, they issued a mea culpa which I found totally hilarious:

When we made the decision to remove and evaluate certain Duck Dynasty items, we offended many of our loyal customers. Our intent was to avoid offending, but that’s just what we’ve done. You told us we made a mistake. And, you weren’t shy about it. You wrote, you called and you took to social media to express your thoughts and feelings. You flat out told us we were wrong.

We listened.

Bold mine. Cracker Barrel in its attempt to not offend, pretty much offended a large portion of their customer base. I just love how Cracker Barrel tried to be politically correct and then got waylaid by their customers for doing so in less than 24 hours no less. Again, that’s the power of social media.

Are you a social media civilian or soldier?

Whether you agree with Robertson and his comments or you disagree with him, what’s clear from this incident, the Sacco situation, and countless others I could have mentioned is the fact that social media is where we are waging war in America today. When we see something on tv or in a magazine or on Facebook we are taking up arms via social media cites to make our opinions known.

And we’re not just content with sharing an opinion, we want in the (disputed) words of Ghandi, “be the change we wish to see” and have a direct impact on whatever issue we feel so strongly about. And by golly, through social media we can have that impact if enough of us share the same opinion.

To me, this is awesome because I’m a populist at heart; I think it’s great for people to be empowered and not just sit on the sidelines. Here’s my final question to you, are you going to enter the social media fray or are you content eating popcorn while reading about the Sacco and the Robertson-like events going on today?

For those of you answering that popcorn is preferable, I’ll just say that social media is not going away and the more you reject social media, the more likely it is you and your views will be left behind. Scary thought, but once again, welcome to the Social Media Wars.

Don can be reached at don@donroach.org . He is a late convert to Twitter. He’d love for you to follow him @donroach34.


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