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An internet outrage reality check for social media people

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy July 6, 2014
Internet outrage is all around us - and so are the apologies. Does any of it make sense? I'd argue that when hypocrisy rules, there are opportunities to think different.

apology epidemic
Consult any social media wonk and you'll get plenty of advice about how to engage on Twitter, Facebook. After more than an internet generation, eight and just over three months to be precise, gurus, experts, and wonks of all descriptions will give you plenty of paid for advice on how not to screw up on social media. Most of it centers around doing the 'right thing' which is also common sense. But then there is always that one time when things go badly wrong.

The list of faux pas and 'revelations' as adjudged by the Twitterati and others makes for interesting reading. What makes for more interesting reading are the apologies that follow. Here's a great example from that denizen of journalistic rigor - Jezebel. The title should tell you all you need to know: American Apparel's Latest Fuck Up Stresses Danger of Hiring Milennials.

Jezebel seems to have a hard on for thwacking American Apparel at every opportunity and this was no exception:

..the shitshow went down on the company's Tumblr account, where an employee posted a picture of a firework explosion cloud thing with the tags: #smoke, #clouds.

The image was a photoshopped version of the Challenger explosion. Hardly tasteful but it turns out the person who posted the image was not one of your mainstream corporate Twitter types.

— American Apparel (@americanapparel) July 3, 2014

Gilbert Gottfried

Can we move on? Sure...but is it coming to something when an otherwise innocent error turns into a groveling apology on the back of sensationalist headlines that barely have any facts attached to them?

It is in this context that I was especially taken with an article Jason Perlow pointed me to from...errr...Playboy.  

The story's essential argument comes in two parts:

  1. Internet outrage is a reality none of us can avoid though celebrities do come in for more than their fair share.
  2. Pre-emptive apologies are a great way to defuse any potential blowback.

The article is hardly safe reading for work unless there is a clause on your contract that allows you to openly discuss what some people might find offensive. So if you are easily offended then don't bother reading on.

Gottfried makes the observation:

 The internet gives everybody the illusion of power. Everyone’s a commentator, everyone’s a writer, everyone’s a movie critic, everyone’s a moral activist. And as a result, everyone is a fucking idiot.

Don't get me started on THAT one. The amount of misinformation and utter nonsense out there is a genuine concern and those that know me also know I don't fight shy of saying so at appropriate moments. Of even greater concern is the thought that media, and by extension social media, has somehow acquired a halo of accepted truth. It is the adman's most frequented wet dream, extending as it now does into companies being told they have to be media businesses. Let's not go there either.

Gottfried does a masterful job deconstructing the 'apologetic internet' showing it up for the hypocritical moral outrage that often lies just beneath the surface:

But as a nation we’ve gotten apology crazy lately. Anything that even slightly upsets our gentle sensibilities is grounds for demanding amends. We want famous people to apologize for being famous. Remember when Alec Baldwin left that nasty message on his teenage daughter’s voice mail, and then the message leaked? If you take Alec Baldwin’s name out of this story, what you’re left with is “Guy is tired of his daughter’s attitude.” 

Touché methinks. But then as a comedian, you can understand his point of view:

An apology is fine now and again, as long as it’s written in advance by a team of professional apologists, comes with a copyright by the PR agency and sounds completely insincere and fabricated. A truly great apology should make people mutter, “What the hell? He clearly didn’t write this. I’d be surprised if he read it.” An apology should always leave people with a bad taste in their mouth and with the undeniable feeling that you’re not in any way sorry.

Just how bad is it out there?

Recently I fielded a call from a very senior executive at a very large company. The exec said that they're concerned for things said being taken out of context and even though it is against their nature to be anything other than forthright, they feel that some protection is needed. My natural instinct is to say 'ignore them' but instead I was able to make a good recommendation. It speaks volumes that someone who is otherwise known for being sincere is concerned to that extent. It's a monumental step backwards.

There are of course events where an apology is absolutely needed. Anyone remember the BP Gulf of Mexico disaster? I remember at the time some speculated that BP might crumble as it scrambled to figure out 1. what had happened and then 2. what to say about the event. Guess what? BP is still with us and is doing OK thank you very much.

It doesn't take too much imagination to conflate these events into other like the banking crisis. But in truth, it seems we live at a time when regardless of what happens, there are very, very few occasions where something going pear shaped leads to catastrophe for those who perpetrate the perceived wrong doing. Other than of course the poor schmuck who screwed up in the first place.

Maybe those apologies work after all. Or maybe it's more the case that people just don't care enough to bring about the changes of which they moan on about. Or maybe it's the case that, as in the current furore surrounding Hobby Lobby, expedience and consumer convenience will allow the company to ride out the storm.

Of course it might help a bit if we all thought different or rather, we expressed what we really thought in the first place rather than attempting to appear holier than thou. That, to me, is the ultimate hypocrisy. And if that is unappealing - then read the last sentence in Gottfried's story.

Image stolen from Playboy with our apologies.

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