Thursday, September 10, 2009

LA Fires and Honda show risks of social media use

As mentioned earlier, last week I had a front row seat to the LA fires while working in the area and staying in Pasadena. It was interesting to see first hand the work of some of the agencies involved, the local media coverage and the criticism of some prominent elected officials and others of the public information management and the media coverage.

But what intrigued me most was some comments sent by a respected associate and PIO concerning the Forest Service's use of social media as part of their public information efforts. A Facebook page was launched and from what I can see effectively used as part of the communication effort for the Station Fire. But I was asked specifically about the nature of some of the comments on a site like this and given that some of the comments are in the nature of what I have called "toxic talk" the question is using sites like this appropriate.

While it is a little old now, it reminded me of something else going on in social media along with the fires and that was the announcement of a new model of Honda cars. Honda, like everyone else these day, is employing social media to communicate about anything and everything including this new model called the Accord Crosstour. Problem was, apparently at least some commenting on their Facebook page decided it was a very ugly vehicle.

I've commented frequently on crisisblogger on "toxic talk," and this phenomenon is certainly one of the risks of using social media. The question is since there is this percentage of the population who seem to be exceptionally angry, rude, full of negative opinions and no compunction about using disgusting language, why should we give them a platform to use to poison others. I'm sure Honda folks were thinking twice about social media as a result of the trash talk.

This kind of experience will no doubt cause some to steer away from using social media. In my mind, that misses the point and represents head in the sand. The conversation goes on and the question is whether or not to participate. And the conversation will go on whether or not it is your Facebook page or Twitter page or any other opportunity you allow for comment. If it is not in your backyard, it will be somewhere else and that itself raises an important question.

At the same time, if it is your backyard in my mind you have a right to control what happens there. I have deleted inappropriate and disrespectful comments from my blog site and have no problem explaining to those who visit that this is my house and I want them to respect my rules. Saying that, it is important to understand that the value system of many who use social media is different than mine in some respects. They are not easily offended with bad language, they seem to revel in "lively" discourse and above all the respect complete freedom and openness of expression.

I don't think the risks of social media as seen in these examples will or should keep emergency management operations from using them. I do believe it is right and appropriate to moderate comments and state the basis for the moderation. Tell the rules but try and understand the values that your audience holds and not just your own. Give a little, but also hold the line.

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