Gini Dietrich

The Social Media Mob Needs to Go

By: Gini Dietrich | March 24, 2015 | 
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The Social Media Mob Needs to GoBy Gini Dietrich

We live in a strange and unprecedented world: Rather than give people a scarlet letter when they do something we don’t agree with, the social media mob comes after them and, in some cases, ruins their lives.

Earlier this year, Justine Sacco broke her silence after she lost her job and went into hiding. For more than a year.

She is the woman who tweeted some unfortunate racist things, including, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

After she tweeted that gem, she got on an 11-hour flight that didn’t have an Internet connection and went to sleep.

The social media mob went nuts. Her tweet went viral and the hashtag, #HasJustineLandedYet, trended globally while people gleefully waited to see what would happen.

By the time she landed and checked her phone, she had text messages from people she hadn’t heard from in years, urgent voicemail messages from close friends, and an email from her boss, firing her.

At the time, Joe Thornley, Martin Waxman, and I discussed it on Inside PR.

I was a bit indignant that the boss didn’t even wait to hear her side of the story. He just bowed to the social media mob and fired her…while she was on an international flight and couldn’t defend herself.

It also struck me as odd that a communications professional didn’t know better.

But we all agreed the social media mob was at its worst here, even if she did use poor judgement in her tweets.

The Social Media Mob

Jon Ronson has a new book out—”So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed“—and he talked to Sacco during his research.

It became a feature piece in New York Magazine (a brilliant book promotion idea, by-the-way) called, “How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life.

Ronson explores Sacco’s side of the story, which then creates an opportunity for Sam Biddle at Gawker (the journalist who broke the Africa tweet story) to come to grips with the other side, and even come to peace with her.

It also has sparked an online conversation about the social media mob and how it should be stopped.

The Washington Post takes it even further and explores other public attacks from the social media mob:

Feminist writers and activists like Jessica Valenti struggle to keep up public writing in the face of constant online attacks. Other writers, like Jaclyn Munson and Lauren Bruce, have been driven to withdraw from the Internet entirely.

The vulnerability of women of color is even more intense: Prominent scholars like Anthea Butler of the University of Pennsylvania face onslaughts of racist harassment just for speaking their minds.

Outside of academia, activists like Jamia Wilson are targets of uniquely brutal and racially tinged abuse, and social critics like Feminista Jones must put up with attacks on a daily basis.

It’s amazing what can happen when someone can sit behind their computer screen, armed with a keyboard, anonymity, and other anonymous trolls flaming the fires.

Don’t Read the Comments

A few days ago, I made the mistake of reading the comments on an article Ragan syndicated from this very blog.

It was about the pay gap between men and women in the PR industry so I thought I would be safe to read the comments. After all, how could anyone think this isn’t bad?

Well, I was wrong.

I read the first two comments—both posted anonymously—and immediately closed the article.

Then I took to Facebook to vent.

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 5.52.56 AM

It’s so easy for the social media mob to criticize—online, in anonymous survey results, and (most of the time) without knowing the person—but not to create.

Perhaps if they also created, they wouldn’t be so fast to jump on the bandwagon.

Make a Pact

Look, I’m no saint. In the early years of blogging—right when Spin Sucks was gaining in popularity—I fell victim to the popular crowd and joined the social media mob.

There is a blog post I wrote in 2010 that I still regret. It jumped on the bandwagon and did nothing to help move the vision of this blog forward. It also managed to get me banned from a major conference.

Not exactly what I’m trying to do here, is it?

When I realized what a tool I had been, I immediately wrote down the vision of this blog—to change the perception people have of the PR industry—and posted it on my computer screen.

Now, when I write a blog post, I ask myself if it goes to that vision. If it doesn’t, I scrap the idea…even if I know it’s going to be controversial and get lots of traffic.

I’d like to challenge you to make a pact with me. Let’s change the social media mob mentality and not let it take hold.

Here are some things you can do:

  • If someone wrongs you, talk to them privately. Don’t write a blog post about it. Don’t send an angry email. Make a phone call. We were plagiarized a few weeks ago. I very easily could have written a blog post about it and flamed the company. Instead I made a phone call and met with their CEO in person. We fixed it offline and gained even more respect for one another.
  • Don’t jump on the bandwagon. It’s really easy to retweet something or re-share on Facebook. Really easy. Fight the temptation. I will absolutely talk about an issue or crisis that is happening in the industry IF there is a lesson our readers can take from it. If the sole purpose of our sharing it is just mean and catty, we don’t do it.
  • Be professional in your discourse. I absolutely think we should debate and challenge one another. I’m a big fan of critical thinking. But be professional about it. Do it under your own name. If you have to post anonymously, perhaps you shouldn’t post it at all. That whole “if you don’t have anything nice to say…” thing.
  • Take time to learn both sides. As the mantra goes, “There are always three sides to a story: His side, her side, and the truth.” Find the truth.
  • Remember there are human beings on the other side. Put yourself in their shoes. What if what you’re about to share was about you? Would you feel differently about it?
  • Live the Golden Rule. Always, always remember that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. If you are about to do something that does something to someone in a way you would not want to be treated, rethink it.

Are you willing to join me in this pact agains the social media mob?

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.

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95 Comments on "The Social Media Mob Needs to Go"

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biggreenpen
1 year 3 months ago

It’s funny/coincidental. I wrote a piece for Weaving Influence today that sort of touched on this same thing — the fact that I learned as a crisis counselor to establish a relationship first before trying to help the person with their problems …. and the fact that social media tempts us to skip over that whole “relationship building” part. And when we skip the relationship building part, the outcomes are much less positive. // Great piece, Gini, one which we should all take to heart.

ginidietrich
1 year 3 months ago

biggreenpen It’s SO EASY to vilify someone if we don’t know them. We do it every day when we people watch and it gets worse when we skip the relationship building part. Until we’ve walked in that person’s shoes, who are we to judge?

KristenDaukas
1 year 3 months ago
And why are most of the “victims” women??? I had a situation a couple of weeks ago and looking back now, wish I had gone with my gut and ignored it but instead I – you guessed it – wrote a post. And while my post didn’t directly call someone out (by name) for being mean, it indirectly did which made me just as bad as the original offender. Which was “pointed out” to me quite a few times. People make mistakes. Words without voice inflection and facial expression have too many alternative meanings. Cowards hide behind screens and anonymity.… Read more »
Lara Wellman
Lara Wellman
1 year 3 months ago
Such an important post!  I can’t get over how quickly people get angry and share it publicly. It’s interesting because I read another article this morning that was all about a boy in Ontario with Aspergers who had nobody RSVP to his birthday party so his mother went to a closed Facebook group and asked people to send him text messages and possibly show up to his birthday party at a local bowling alley.  The thing went viral and he got thousands of texts and thousands showed up to his party. There are now all kinds of people criticizing the… Read more »
CaptainKinship
CaptainKinship
1 year 3 months ago
I can certainly see both sides of the story here. On the one side, the requirement to remain balanced when dealing with online content, and especially social media. It is a shame that digital technology gives us the means to gang up and be cruel to each other on the basis of how things seem, rather than how they might actually be. But on the other hand, you have to consider the possibility of anything else. If we get rid of the bullies and the nasties of the internet, how do you police that? How do you enforce something like… Read more »
ginidietrich
1 year 3 months ago
CaptainKinship I would love to think the entire profession is already against the lynching that takes place, but I don’t think everyone is as altruistic as that. Some of it is “mean girl” reaction, some of it is jumping on the bandwagon, but in our profession—in particular—it’s so much more…we oftentimes instigate it. I’m reminded of the whisper campaign that Burson employees did against Google for Facebook. They fabricated stories to make their client look better. It’s not the social media mob, but it most certainly isn’t standing up for what’s right or doing things ethically.  That said, I do… Read more »
ginidietrich
1 year 3 months ago
Lara Wellman I saw that same story and my first thought was, “Shame on the parents who didn’t RSVP!” But I also didn’t share the story or provide my opinion on it. I stopped and thought about it and then went on about my day. (I also think it’s funny that some parents are shaming the mom for posting it because someday all his friends will know no one came to his birthday party.) In times like that, I’m reminded of my seventh grade dance. A kid in my grade had Down’s and he asked me to dance. I was… Read more »
ginidietrich
1 year 3 months ago

KristenDaukas It’s really hard not to write posts when you’re angry. It’s the same as writing angry emails. But, just like with emails, we should write it all down and then never hit publish. Get it out of our systems and let it sit for a day or two. Most often you’re not going to publish it because you’ll have calmed down. I’m guilty of the same, exact thing.

JRHalloran
1 year 3 months ago

You know how many blog posts I read per year that are solely based on getting back at someone publicly? I agree — enough is enough. It doesn’t make anyone look any better for doing so.  
I also find it interesting that people use their freedom of speech as a weapon to others who are also simply exercising the same right. It’s just baffling.

samemac
samemac
1 year 3 months ago
This. All of this. It’s probably my favorite post – to date.  I had this conversation just yesterday with a few colleagues and community partners. We discussed Monica Lewinsky’s current TED Talk “The Price of Shame” (http://www.ted.com/talks/monica_lewinsky_the_price_of_shame). I honestly think this topic deserves a banner to be waved around and a movement of like-minded professionals to push it. We live in a world where mere children are making mistakes and living out the consequences on a much larger scale. While some mistakes are much larger than others and deserve consequences that make one understand the mistake and learn from it,… Read more »
ginidietrich
1 year 3 months ago

JRHalloran It’s A LOT of blog posts. I also owe you an email. I haven’t forgotten!

sydcon_mktg
1 year 3 months ago
It always amazes me how brave someone is hiding behind a computer screen. Bullying is a growing problem. Competitors are bullying each other by posting fake, anonymous reviews. Fired employees who in many cases got fired for their own behavior take to anonymously beating up a employer on line. And it goes on and on. Same with social media sites and customer service. I always cringe when I see someone blast bad experiences when it seems that was a knee jerk reaction. Reach out to the firm first, even if its via social media by saying something like “i am… Read more »
SMVermillion
1 year 3 months ago
“It’s so easy for the social media mob to criticize—online, in anonymous survey results, and (most of the time) without knowing the person—but not to create.”  I was thinking this EXACT same thing when I read an incredibly mean comment on one of my PR Daily posts last month. The article did really well. I got great feedback. But there was the one angry person who wanted to tell me what an awful PR pro I was. I wanted to say “Well, what have you written lately? Maybe you should put yourself out there before criticizing!” But I didn’t. I… Read more »
RobBiesenbach
1 year 3 months ago

I read that New York Magazine piece and was amazed at how, a few steps back from the heat, it really undermined a lot of my assumptions about Sacco and the whole incident.
One thing I find curious. A number of publications have taken to requiring people to post using their Facebook profile, and yet the comment sections on their website remain a cesspool. I suppose some people make up fake profiles for the purpose of attacking others and spreading racist vitriol, but it seems many of them just don’t care.

samemac
samemac
1 year 3 months ago

SMVermillion Trolls. They are everywhere.

Tim Bonner
1 year 3 months ago

Over here in Scotland the independence debate has embraced social media. Whilst some of it is constructive and useful, there’s so many awful things being said on both sides. People are very passionate about the issue but with passion comes overstepping the mark sometimes. As an Englishman Scotland’s not always the nicest place to be any more because of it.

I’m all for debate but the social media mob take things too far – particularly the anonymous and fake profiles that are springing up all over the place.

bdorman264
1 year 3 months ago

I got banned from a conference once, but who knew the bathrooms would be located next to the head table after a long night of Mexican food and Tequila….:(

The semi-anonymity has really allowed some ugliness to rear it’s head in the realm of social and you make some good points about thinking before you publish or share as to what impact it will have and how it represents you. 

It’s still never too late to do the right thing; my motto is ” what would your mama think about that?” Proud, or not proud….

biggreenpen
1 year 3 months ago
ginidietrich CaptainKinship Anecdote: there is a guy on twitter who I realize now is ALL sarcasm ALL the time but before I realized that, he had tweeted something that aligned with something another twitter friend (who has a bit of public notoriety) had said and I said something completely sincere like, “oh funny you got that idea from [x].” He literally tweeted back a vitriolic tweet that said something like, “you’re accusing me of stealing material you b**ch, go f*** off.” I laugh about it now but at the time I was BLOWN AWAY. The only thing I could think to… Read more »
biggreenpen
1 year 3 months ago

ginidietrich Lara Wellman I love your mom, Gini.

ginidietrich
1 year 3 months ago

biggreenpen Lara Wellman She’s a good girl.

Diana Combs
Diana Combs
1 year 3 months ago
You wrote: “It’s amazing what can happen when someone can sit behind their computer screen, armed with a keyboard, anonymity, and other anonymous trolls flaming the fires.” Yes, because it isn’t just social media where people do that.  I worked for a company with intrAnet & chat rooms, and there was definitely a troll or two who worked for the company, and ruined their international reputation with colleagues by spouting venom on fellow employees. It has always stunned me how anonymity has been an easy excuse to be cruel.  There must be a lot of unhappy people who would do that.  The… Read more »
bobledrew
bobledrew
1 year 3 months ago

The other tip: Have the courage of your convictions and put your name to your comments. Like is done here. I know that anonymity has some purposes, but there’s far more downside than up.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
1 year 3 months ago

JennyStarkey Thank you!

LauraPetrolino
1 year 3 months ago

bobledrew Totally agreed!

ginidietrich
1 year 3 months ago

bobledrew Yes. It’s not hard. If you are embarrassed to write what you have to say in your own name, you probably shouldn’t say it.

ginidietrich
1 year 3 months ago

Diana Combs It often makes me laugh that there are two things we will never change another’s mind about—politics and religion—yet it’s been okay to talk about those two things all over the social networks. It’s incredible, really. But it goes to your point about seasoned colleagues having to be told.

ginidietrich
1 year 3 months ago

bdorman264 Or, as my mom always says, “Remember who you are and what you stand for.”

ginidietrich
1 year 3 months ago

Tim Bonner Totally, totally agree. I think we forget there are human beings on the other end of our vitriol.

ginidietrich
1 year 3 months ago

RobBiesenbach I don’t know if it falls on the side of “it’s too much work to moderate” conversation. You know how I feel about it. I moderate the conversation here. And, trust me, it’s not too much work. I have tools in place that help. It alerts me to comments that have certain words in them. It’s not difficult.

ginidietrich
1 year 3 months ago

SMVermillion When I was president of PRSA Chicago a few years ago, people would tell me what they thought about our programming. I would always (ALWAYS) say, “We could really use another programming committee member. Can we count on you?” It’s amazing how quickly they disappear.

ginidietrich
1 year 3 months ago

sydcon_mktg We had a situation where that turned around on us. We called and had a private conversation with a company and then they turned to social media to flame us. They never said our name, but we knew it was us…and I even commented on it, explaining why we did what we did. It sort of flamed out after that, but it was REALLY interesting to see some of my friends pile on before they knew it was me or what my side of the story was.

I know you’ve had a similar situation…

ginidietrich
1 year 3 months ago

biggreenpen Wow. I would be floored, too.

NancyDavis
1 year 3 months ago
I got publicly shamed a few years ago by an online bully who I know in person. The sad part is that many people get tough behind a computer screen, but would not dare say that stuff to your face. Unreal the stuff I was called.  Anyway, Justine Sacco to me is hugely unsympathetic. I get that she was kidding, but it was in such poor taste. I guess it is the “I am rich and you are not” attitude that bothers me. I often have much more empathy for those who I feel are not bothering people, yet are… Read more »
ginidietrich
1 year 3 months ago

NancyDavis More importantly, did you get your hair cut and do you have a date tonight? I’m dying to know if what I think is going to happen is going to happen.

NancyDavis
1 year 3 months ago

ginidietrich My date is not til the weekend, but he is nagging me to get my hair cut! My hairdresser was not there today. Something is up I know it!

Danny Brown
1 year 3 months ago
Was that the joint blog post about BlogWorld (now New Media Expo)? Or was it the post about Chris Brogan and his “Google+ for Business” webinar? And Rick from NME jumped in and demanded you publicly apologize? Because if so, you shouldn’t regret anything. The hypocrisy behind the NME end-of-show that year, and their worry about the panel’s original title, was laughable, as was Rick’s blanking at the event. However, I digress… I wrote a post just over 12 months ago that looked at this growing mob mentality. http://dannybrown.me/2014/01/07/social-media-bullying-and-the-growing-lynch-mob-mentality/ Where I think a large part of the problem lies is… Read more »
Danny Brown
1 year 3 months ago

bobledrew Look, Pepe, when you stop using Bob and revert to Pepe….
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEdBndu0YUM

Danny Brown
1 year 3 months ago
ginidietrich bobledrew I’m not sure it’s always that easy. Say someone that works for a government agency disagrees with the government’s policy on privacy, and (by employee association) can’t speak publicly, but has a very strong argument to share? Or say someone has had the flip side of sexual harassment from a female boss, and is too embarrassed to talk about it using their own name, but opens up on a blog post or forum to get advice?  As I mentioned on Facebook when this was being discussed, it’s not as black and white as we’d like to think it is… Read more »
Karen_C_Wilson
1 year 3 months ago

The thing about the mob mentality is that it’s almost universally about flaying a person for a thoughtless mistake that 10 years ago wouldn’t have been a blip on anyone’s radar. All of the sudden, we’re supposed to be perfect because someone might post our actions on social media? (Or maybe we just say something bone-headed ourselves.)
People don’t change their behaviour based on being attacked. They don’t feel remorse when they’re shamed. They either withdraw completely out of fear, like Justine Sacco, or they push back and try to justify their actions like Amy’s Baking Company.

Corina Manea
1 year 3 months ago
I´m in! Great post Gini!  Speaking of mistakes in social, on Sunday I posted a tweet with something Guy Kawasaki supposedly said in a podcast I was listening: “I would auto post on Google+ for SEO purposes, but other than that I don´t see the value.” Of course it wasn´t Guy, it was one of the podcast hosts who´s voice I mistook with Guy´s. And it happened because I didn´t listened from the beginning, I jumped at the part about Google+. As soon as I realized my errror, I tweeted an apology to Guy, who responded and was very cool… Read more »
ginidietrich
1 year 3 months ago

NancyDavis Something is up!

ginidietrich
1 year 3 months ago
Danny Brown bobledrew BUT…why would you want those things in writing? If I worked for a government agency and wanted to share a strong argument, I most certainly wouldn’t put anything in writing that could cause me to get fired if found out. If I were on the flip side of harassment and there could be a lawsuit forthcoming, why would I put anything in writing that could be used in the lawsuit later…against me? Sure, I’d want to talk to someone, but it’d be all offline.  My view on anonymity is if you have to be anonymous, you probably shouldn’t… Read more »
Danny Brown
1 year 3 months ago

ginidietrich This is why the Whistleblower Law was enabled. Sorry, we’ll have to disagree strongly on this – it’s unfair to expect someone to not voice something unless they’re public about who they are, based on certain circumstances. Otherwise, it’s the mob that wins, and that negates the post currently being discussed. bobledrew

Danny Brown
1 year 3 months ago
ginidietrich Case in point. Person A works for an arm of the government. Said government introduces (or plans to introduce) bill that is against many of Person A ‘s beliefs when it comes to citizen privacy. Person A can’t join a discussion on Facebook, or Twitter, or comment on a blog, because Person A’ beliefs are against his/her employer’s politics (even if Person A doesn’t work directly in the ruling government’s office, but an agency/arm of the ruling government). Additionally, Person A can’t offer an opinion on Federal politics, as it relates to Provincial (or even Municipal). For me, anonymity (based… Read more »
JRHalloran
1 year 3 months ago

ginidietrich  For anyone reading this, it’s a good email. No bad talk going on lol.

Diana Combs
Diana Combs
1 year 3 months ago
Karen_C_Wilson  It isn’t always a blip of a mistake either.  I see people justifying their shaming of public figures with the attitude of “s/he asked for it”.  I’m talking about public figures who don’t even make a mistake, but just walk the earth. People that I grew up with (but thankfully aren’t close to) see or hear them, and absolutely fries them for nothing.  It is rife with judgment and shows a glaring jealousy of those in a better position in life.  Just tearing down the nearest victim to feel superior for 30 seconds.    I wouldn’t be surprised if,… Read more »
ginidietrich
1 year 3 months ago

Danny Brown But to what end? If Person A is doing it for whistleblowing purposes, social media and blogging aren’t the right avenues for that. If Person A is doing it to blow off steam and vent, what’s the purpose? I feel like the risk is much, much greater than the reward.

MartinaPQuinn
1 year 3 months ago

Great post, Gini. I read Jon Ronson’s book on public shaming in two sittings last week – couldn’t put it down!  And I’m lecturing on cyber bullying and online behaviour next week, so this has given me plenty of food for thought.  The rules you’ve outlined in your pact are good rules for life in general, not just for social media 🙂

Danny Brown
1 year 3 months ago
ginidietrich Remove the whistleblower part. Put it in simple terms – you no longer have the right to share an opinion (not blow off steam, just share an opinion). That’s pretty much a dictatorship. I’m all for anonymity when opinions are being stifled because of jobs (and the “find another job” argument is easier said than done in this economy). Also, let’s use the examples in your post. You advise the social media mob needs to go. I agree. But what if the only way to do so is to counter anonymously because of fear of retribution (just look at those… Read more »
KevinVandever
KevinVandever
1 year 3 months ago

Great advice for dealing with folks in general. Beyond the Blog. I’ve spoke out against this type of behavior before, with someone I know well. It was tough and didn’t really do anything to change behavior, but I felt good that I took a stand and let others know I wasn’t on the bandwagon. Cyber bullying (bullying of any kind, really) and public shaming are at the top of my list of things that fry me. I could, and should, do more to stop these behaviors.  

Pact accepted. We should make it official over wine.

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