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Gini Dietrich

Politicians Trying to Control What Is Said Online

By: Gini Dietrich | November 29, 2011 | 
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Let’s talk politics today, shall we?

OK, not really politics, but the politicians who don’t know how to use the web appropriately.

In one corner we have Mike Winder, West Valley City (Utah) Mayor, who was using a false identity to write news stories that were published in at least three different publications.

In the other corner we have Sam Brownback, the Kansas governor, who demanded an apology from a high school student because of a disparaging tweet she sent about him.

Let’s see who will win the biggest moron award. 

Mike Winder

The Utah Mayor used pseudonym Richard Burwash to write news articles about the city he governs, saying he wanted to highlight “good news” after cutbacks in coverage of local government.

He admitted writing more than a dozen articles under the byline, that for more than two years appeared in the daily Deseret News, KSL-TV’s website and the Oquirrh Times, a community weekly.

He even quoted himself, as Mayor, and used anonymous city employee sources in his stories.

When asked about his motive behind doing this, he said he wanted:

To try to restore balance in the Deseret News‘ coverage of his city, claiming the paper focused too much on crime and not enough on “good news” in his community.

He also defended himself by saying other American such as Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton all used pen names.

No matter. PRSA condemned this practice by saying:

The basic tenets of ethical communications practices, as addressed in the PRSA Code of Ethics, require that those representing organizations or governments serve the public interest by advancing the free flow of accurate and truthful information.

Sam Brownback

The Kansas governor’s office had a field day when high school student, Emma Sullivan, was visiting the capitol last week and tweeted:

Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.

Seeing the tweet, Brownback’s communication director called the principal at Sullivan’s school, who demanded she issue an apology.

The thing is…Sullivan had only 65 followers at the time. And, until her visit to the capitol, she tweeted only about Edward and Jacob and Justin Beiber. Typical teenage stuff.

Now she has more than 9,000 followers and is tweeting quotes from Ghandi, things about free speech, and thanks for all of the support she’s getting.

Turns out her tweet does fall within free speech and Gov. Brownback issued an apology to Sullivan for their “overreaction.”

The Lessons

This web thing is a hard one to figure out. You lose control of what people will say and do.

But the thing is, you never really had control. You just had the perception of control because you couldn’t hear and read what people were saying. People have always been people. Now we just have a bullhorn for our messages.

Clearly Winder never should have published news stories under a pen name. By quoting himself and anonymous city employees, he knew he was doing something wrong and unethical. Not to mention not transparent, which is one of the platforms he’ll run on as he eyes the Mayor seat for Salt Lake County.

The governor’s office should be monitoring what is being said about him online, and bravo for being on top of it. But to make such a big deal over one tweet from a teenager who has 65 followers? That’s a ton of time wasted…and a ton of the governor’s time that could have been spent, oh I don’t know, running the state.

You can create owned media, but put your own stinking name on it. You should be monitoring the web for what is said about you, your company, and your products or services. But please, please, please have a strategy. Without it you’ll overreact to a teenager with 65 followers.

Oh and the biggest moron award? I say Mayor Winder receives it because he is still unapologetic.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

99 comments
MatchesMalone
MatchesMalone

It follows that Emma Sullivan should get first runner up, because from the content of her tweet, she can't decide whether the Governor sucks or blows....

EricaAllison
EricaAllison

Here, here..."you never really had control." The difference now...you (sorry, not YOU, but the general you) think you do because you created a FB page or a Twitter account and therefore control that space. What has really happened is you've just provided people with an additional, public way to share their opinions about you and it's beyond your control. What is within your control is how it's managed, monitored and addressed. Learning to tell the difference between the mountains and the molehills is a skill; knowing when and how to climb the real mountain is an art.

New England Multimedia
New England Multimedia

Excellent post, Gini. I'm really glad to see you've given credit to Brownback's office for apologizing after the fact, too. We've been discussing this over on @Neicolec 's blog, where I explain why I'm not a fan of Ms. Sullivan's. I mentor young people who have valid concerns about the way free speech is afforded to some but not all in the public school setting. My advice to them is to use social media and other opportunities to speak their minds, but always with respect for those who disagree with them; to be pillars of good character and solid integrity, so their opponents can't dismiss them as being hypocrites (ad hominem arguments); and to build bridges to dialogue by using language that keeps their opponents from going on the defensive. Think of the Topeka, Kansas church that pickets funerals. They're exercising their free speech rights as well, but we don't applaud them for doing so, or deride those who are trying to stop them. What Ms. Sullivan said certainly doesn't go to that extreme, but the principle is the same. I believe when we talk about free speech, we also need to talk about the values of civility and respect for others. What do you think?

Adam | Customer Experience
Adam | Customer Experience

Okay, not a PR pro like many here, but if I had a Ten Commandments of PR, one of them would be, you don't swat mosquitos with a bazooka. On the Kansas issue...From 65 followers to national press, all courtesy of elevating something that should have just been ignored. To me, it's not even a free speech issue, it's just, as you point out, dumb PR.

LeeTawil
LeeTawil

I agree with you about Governor Brownback. There are always going to be people who don't agree with your political views. To make a big thing out of a comment made by a high schooler is definitely a case of not understanding how social media is used.

Having said that, I think that the decision by the governor to not pursue further action is the correct decision. He realized he was wrong and is now owning up to it.

glenn_ferrell
glenn_ferrell

Way to go Emma Sullivan :) Gini - (speaking of politicians desire to control the web) congratulations -- you got through this entire article without mentioning SOPA (what a rat's nest of issues that is.)

NancyD68
NancyD68

They are both morons.Did you see something similar happened when that Dallas Cowboys cheerleader got knocked over by a player as he was running out of bounds. She did two cute, HARMLESS tweets and the Cowboys yanked her off twitter. @skypulsemedia would agree that the New York Giants are not only a better football team but handle social media better. The NY Giants are very active on Twitter and have a very busy Facebook page as well.

Back to the dumb politicians. One is a bully and one is a moron. They are almost interchangeable in their arrogance and levels of stupidity. The one from Utah wins only because he was publishing fake news stories. Did he really think he would get away with that?

And the other one, bullying a high school kid - WTF? That's all I got on that one.

sydcon_mktg
sydcon_mktg

I agree, the Mayor is the bigger moron. But I also think Emma Sullivan's principal should be in the running (at least get a honorable mention) for calling her into the principals office and demanding she write a apology letter, even setting a deadline to do so. He way overstepped his boundaries, her Twitter account and comments about a politician have nothing to do with him or his school. He had no right to attempt to discipline her.

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Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

Clearly, Emma was correct in her statement. The Governor and his staff have proved that. And clearly, the truth hurts. That. is all.

Oh, wait, one other thing. "Let's see who will win the biggest moron award" made me laugh out loud.

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PattiRoseKnight
PattiRoseKnight

I ususally stay out of political conversations but these two are true morons! And they say Chicago politiciations are crooks! Unreal!

jenzings
jenzings

IMHO, the "moron" award goes to the adult male who knew full well that writing articles under a false name was wrong. Brownback can only be faulted for hiring overzealous staffers.

wabbitoid
wabbitoid

Having just come off of running a campaign, I have to say that this is a tricky thing at best. Controlling the message is very important in a political campaign because there is a definite end-date - no chance to redeem yourself after November. Also, since there are often two contenders and not a truly free market, there is a chance to go negative - Coke vs Pepsi - so you have your opponent's stuff to respond to. Otherwise innocent "consumer" complaints are very likely plants by the other side.

Now, having said that, I don't think either of these guys are in the middle of a campaign. But there is one more thing that makes Winder's schtick far more damning IMHO - there may be laws against it if there is a campaign running and/or he has a valid campaign committee in place (which I'll bet he does). Not knowing the laws of Utah I can't say for sure, but in Minnesota his actions could be violations of the truth in campaign laws in many ways and could result in very large fines and a huge investigation that would result in months of bad press.

So political campaigns are different, but these guys were just being jerks generally. Brownback gets a special award for making a big issue out of something he had no business elevating in the first place. Mayor Winder did something that probably happens a lot - but staff takes care of it. So I think that while they both have levels of stupidity I think from a political standpoint Brownback's sin was even worse - unless Winder violated campaign laws, in which case he's a total idiot.

bdorman264
bdorman264

Uh oh, you mean I was supposed to be using my real name for my blog. At first, I didn't think much about it because I thought I could stay under the radar; you know, liked the time I faked my death to collect the insurance money but was discovered when I ran for mayor in Myprivate, Idaho; I just never expected to reach these lofty heights. I'm afraid if I tell everyone now I'm really Arnold Schwarzenegger http://www.popstarsplus.com/images/ArnoldSchwarzeneggerPicture.jpg they might not react to kindly in light of all the allegations floating about..........I'm sure @skypulsemedia can appreciate where I'm coming from because I think he uses an alias as well........

The real problem is there is no control so you hope there is a least some civility and at least a grain of truth to what you see and read. Unfortunately, it will always be hit or miss in this arena unless we are hangin' at reputable joints like this, huh?

BethMosher
BethMosher

I say the moron award goes to neither the Gov or the Mayor but rather to that communications director who should have known better than to make such a huge deal over nothing. Now it's national news and you have the Governor apologizing to the teen for crying out loud. Not quite the way they thought this would turn out, but if the communications director was worth his salt, he would have foreseen this mess play out, or at least recognized that making a fuss over someone with 65 followers isn't worth it.

Leon
Leon

G'Day Gini,

When I was in my teens-a long time ago- i became quite interested in politics. The family had a long association with the Labor Party-read Democratic in the US-and in my adolescent innocence I was discovering that politicians weren't as noble as they made themselves out to be.

Sensing my frustration, my father said to me one day, "Don't worry son. They're only politicians."

The older I get I, like Mark Twain, realize what a smart bloke my father was.

I vote for Governor Sam. Anyone who takes themselves so seriously has gotta be a dill.

Make sure you have fun

Regards

Leon

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

He's not a politician but this conversation sort of reminded me of the Syracuse Men's BB coach Jim Boeheim and his before and after comments about his assistant coach's inappropriate and most likely illegal activity.

Even in 2011 it's still surprising that these high profile figures don't seem to have the slightest bit of social media training (or, I guess in Winder's case any media training at all). How unorganized are these institutions, political offices, companies, etc... The only good news is that means plenty of job growth representing them =P

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

Considering Brownback doesn't believe in Climate Change or Evolution he always wins the moron award. But based on these two events I agree Winder does. Especially since as Mayor why isn't he just penning rosy stories under his own name for the paper? Or find another forum to cover the good stuff. As long as what he is writing is truthful I think it would be well received.

But here is something about twitter. The more people you follow the less chance you will see a specific tweet. So the chances of something going viral among a closed network of users is higher actually. I found this out when a few people would always win a trivia game for a client. I checked them out and they only followed 20 to 50 accounts so they saw all the tweets. And their tweet count was really high 10,000+ which proved to me that small networks exist within Twitter for people chatting with friends.

BTW she now has 12,000 followers. She needs to be in a wheat thins commercial..ahem @vinnywarren

barryrsilver
barryrsilver

Gini,

Actually, prior to the Internet politicians did have control over what and how information was disseminated. "Want a five minute exclusive with the Mayor/Governor/Senator/candidate? Don't go printing that negative stuff as you have in the past."

With the onset of online social interaction and SEO there are a number of paid tweeters/FBers/bloggers and wikiwriters trying to design a history more compatible with philosophy than truth and simultaneously co-opt search engines. Hey, Texas is editing text books to bend generations of minds. Besides, the stuff you describe is often done as red herring, either to keep from talking about important stuff or with the understanding that many of the electorate are too lazy, stupid or partisan to seek the truth. Some/all of the crap goes unchallenged.

As for the moron of your post, I disagree. Winder is a kid, still wet behind the ears. Brownback is a former US Senator who probably has a standing campaign and SM staff. Someone should have fleshed this out. Giving the girl an invite to meet the Gov. and discuss differences (I suck young lady? How so?) would have been so much better than shooting a fly with an elephant gun. Make your critics your ambassadors, right?

ifdyperez
ifdyperez

This stuff really gets to me. And SOPA... oh, don't get me started. Grrr.

smccollo
smccollo

If Winder is worried about the lack of positive events in the local media, maybe he should focus on running the city and genuinely creating positive events, rather than making them up. *Sigh* Some people...

jeffespo
jeffespo

I give the biggest momo award to Brownback. The main reason is that he took on a kid, and lost. Seriously that chick took him down and is laughing all the way to a celebrity show appearance. {{Stop Laughing}} at me you know it is going to happen.In the case of Widner, while being a joke on journalistic integrity, it further highlights the blur of lines between what is and what is not journalism. Everyone is a content producer nowadays. The real question with him is what are the repercussions. The CEO of Whole Foods used a false name on message board years ago and was fined, will something similar happen to this chucklehead? Who knows. On one hand I don't mind what he did as we all know that good news doesn't sell on the 10 O'Clock News, but then again someone should have been there to step in and say homeboy slow your roll.

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BestRoofer
BestRoofer

I'm just wondering if there is any chance that Social Media will help us get better politicians in office? We could really use some right now!

jasonkonopinski
jasonkonopinski

I think we need to clarify one point on the Brownback thing. The communications director is really to blame her for making a monumental mountain out of an itty bitty molehill.

I've seen some very good use of SM by politicians both on the national and local stages.

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KenMueller
KenMueller

Well, you know how I feel about politicians and politics. I think that as social media increases in adoption among the masses, and for those using the tools for marketing, politicians will most certainly be the last to actually "get it". Morons Anonymous is calling.

Trackbacks

  1. […] the staff of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback mishandled one teen’s tweet to 65 followers, but Spin Sucks says it all quite well, and throws in a good story about a Utah […]

  2. […] A post this morning on SpinSucks reminded me just how far we have to go when it comes to teaching people about bridging offline and online worlds. Between a Governor’s office overreacting to a teenager’s tweet and a Mayor publishing “good news stories” under a pseudonym, there is clearly a lot to be learned. Gini Dietrich sums it up nicely in the post: […]

  3. […] A post this morning on SpinSucks reminded me just how far we have to go when it comes to teaching people about bridging offline and online worlds. Between a Governor’s office overreacting to a teenager’s tweet and a Mayor publishing “good news stories” under a pseudonym, there is clearly a lot to be learned. Gini Dietrich sums it up nicely in the post: […]

  4. […] the amount of engagement Gini and Lisa are able to create. I believe the SpinSucks blogposts have more comments than any other blog I read. The posts are always truly personal and they totally win the award for […]

  5. […] Welcome to Kansas. And, in honor of my biggest moron award from earlier this week, this is for those of you thinking about visiting the great state of […]