The hazards of transPaRency

It has become a public relations practitioner’s role to create content and monitor social media on behalf of their clients. We then encourage transparency by allowing our publics to comment. But it can be a hazardous policy.

Senator Harry Reid

Senator Harry Reid

I was reminded of these risks when Senator Harry Reid had an unfortunate home accident last week. Online news platforms provided a place for comments both sympathetic and downright nasty. Examples: “Anyone really believe a story of this wimp capable of breaking exercise equipment? I think the real story involves a car and a bottle of scotch,” “Maybe it knocked some sense into his liberal head,” and “There is a God.” And these were the more tame comments. Some wished the senator an early death–and worse.

After Robin Williams’ suicide a few months ago his daughter Zelda received numerous “cruel and unnecessary” comments, according to an Instagram post she published. There were also terrible Photoshopped pictures of her father’s death, leading her to shut down her social media pages. “I will be leaving this account,” she wrote, “Mining our accounts for photos of dad, or judging me…is cruel and unnecessary.”

I recalled a 2013 episode of Bill Maher’s HBO show “Real Time” in which he editoralized (warning: R-rated content) about the culture of hate we seem to have created via the Internet. He observed how when Miss New York, Indian-American Nina Davaluri was crowned Miss America, “Twitter exploded with so much racist hate that you’d have thought President Obama had just made a reasonable remark.” He showed Twitter feeds that fired expletives to innocuous targets–even one directed at a popular restaurant: “F*** you, Cheesecake Factory.” “Who wastes their time telling Cheesecake Factory to f*** off?” Maher added. “Why has hate become the national pastime?”

We often walk the line in America between free speech and nasty, hateful language. PR people must monitor social media for their clients, but they have to tread lightly when deciding to edit or delete comments. Transparency includes allowing voices in, but I often wonder when–or if–it shouldn’t. Your thoughts?

 

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