What ensued invoked mixed emotions, so after digesting a few minutes of speculation, typos and “jump the gun” reporting on the news networks, I went to bed figuring I’d wait until the dust settled in the morning to get more accurate reporting.
When I woke, I found that Americans continued trends that have been characteristic of our nation since the 9/11 attacks (and probably before) by producing a range of reactions and showed the best and worst we have to offer.
Some took to the streets with celebratory chanting, some released a solemn sigh of relief and took time to reflect. Facebook and Twitter were filled with people’s reactions, with a spectrum best represented by two false quotes that became pervasive. I was guilty of tweeting what I thought was a Mark Twain quote from a friend on Facebook — “I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.” — only to have someone point out that it was a variation of a quote by Clarence Darrow. Words attributed to Martin Luther King Jr. similarly were posted all over Facebook that too turned out to be a fake.
The historic news of Osama bin Laden’s death demonstrated what can be amazing about communications and what can be questionable at best. Not only did Twitter and Facebook scoop the traditional media, social media helped tell the story through official channels such as the White House Flickr stream. As the story developed, it turns out that a Pakistani IT consultant unsuspectingly live tweeted the capture as it happened.
While checking Twitter at lunch, I started to see the unsavory side of the story, starting with a tweet by the Cooking Channel:
For some reason, using the death of one of the worst terrorists in history to drive traffic to your web page for cookie recipes seemed questionable to me. Cooking Channel was not alone, as the Old Navy in Wilmington NC used the opportunity to sell t-shirts:
Of course this trend could be found on Facebook as well, including a pizza shop in Georgia:
Then there was criminal side of the bin Laden story and the media. Scammers wasted no time to come up with ways of redirecting people from Google Images to sites that would infect their computers with malware and a “death video” scam to gain access to Facebook users’ contacts and collect money.
The Bottom Line
When crafting a communications strategy, I always advise looking for ways to be topical and relevant. Being part of the news cycle rather than being overtaken by it is always smart, but it comes with the responsibility of discretion.
While none of the “bad” examples rise to the level of the Kenneth Cole tweet about the uprisings in Cairo, I question their appropriateness. As communicators, we cannot bemoan the labels of flacks, shills and ambulance chasers if we engage in this sort of behavior or condone it.