Jul 23

Rumors, rants – and responsibilities

There’s no doubt social media is powerful: this weekend, it allowed me to mourn the death of a 10-year-old, welcome the birth of a first grandchild, plan lunch with out-of-town friends and share the 60thanniversary celebration of my in-laws – all without leaving my couch.

Social media makes it easy – sometimes too easy – to comment and connect. At their best, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other platforms bring us words and images that make us soar, prompt us to pause and encourage us to wonder.

At their worst, though, these same social media platforms cause havoc and pain as they are mis-used to deliver misinformation, half-truths and incomplete stories – and I’m not talking about fake news. These were rumors and rants that somersaulted the to-do lists of three clients and forced them to battle inaccurate information carelessly posted on social media.

Culprit 1: Indignant rants. A stakeholder of one client took to social media to share a story of social injustice, igniting the rage of her friends and resulting in scores of comments and shares that eventually reached the ears of the media. When our client began investigating the incident, we learned that key details had been left out or glossed over in order to make the rant-er look better. Do you say that to the media? Can you say, Well, not, it’s not like that at all…without sounding defensive?

Culprit 2: Nothing you say. Another client who has been the target of a relentless social media campaign of misinformation posted a lengthy, detailed explanation of a key issue. Not an hour had passed when several of the more truculent trolls weighed in to criticize the explanation. Nothing this client says, and I mean nothing, will satisfy this group of stakeholders.

Culprit 3: Baseless rumors. Still a third client was the target of a whisper campaign that resulted in a baseless rumor being repeated and repeated until it had shapeshifted into something unrecognizable – and incontestable. It reminded me of playing “telephone” with a group of Romanian business leaders while I was leading a seminar for the Soros Foundation. I whispered a simple sentence in English to the person on my right – when it came all around the table, it had transmogrified into a complex and lengthy sentence in Romanian!

Each client invested hours and hours, and sometimes days, combatting these rumors and rants. We were called in to help – and in many cases, all we could do was listen, sympathize, monitor and wait for the issue to die down. These non-issues sucked way too many hours from each day – hours that could better have been spent on actual projects that moved the proverbial ball forward.

The concept of civil discourse and social media do not have to be mutually exclusive – unless we make them so. So please, the next time you read an online rumor, start cheering for an indignant rant or are tempted to pile onto a string of criticism, stop. Stop before you like, share or comment and take responsibility to vet the rumor, rant or criticism to ensure it is accurate, fair and warranted.

It ultimately takes more time to stop, review and verify, but we will all be the better for it.

Pass it on.


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