Monday, February 04, 2019

What do you do if your brand is being damaged by online bullies and trolls? The Daily Mail's "unmasking the trolls" approach

Fed up with the social media accounts dedicated to insulting Meghan Markle, Kensington Palace and the U.K. tabloid, The Daily Mail, clawed back by putting the photos, names, and hometowns of the owners of social media sites that had posted hateful posts. The headline immediately attracted attention for calling out the critics: "Unmasked: The cruel trolls who spew bile against the Duchess of Sussex on social media, branding her a 'hooker' and 'trash'... and call for #Megxit," and the article contained images the owners of the social media accounts and some details about their posts, their identities.

It is by no means the first time that The Daily Mail has used this approach. It has been done before in the case of British politician Jeremy Corbyn. However, it is not an approach that is regularly seen in the U.S., and many of the Meghan Markle critics are based in the U.S.

Question: Do you think The Daily Mail's strategy will work to stop people from saying and posting harsh opinions and speculation about public figures?

There have been some complaints from the people who were “unmasked” that they feel they are now in danger from people who are offended by them. But, since their information was public, do they have a defensible case? 

If someone has a social media account in which they insult celebrities, promote conspiracy theories, or encourage people to act out, is it a good approach to “expose” them? 

On another level, when a person or entity with wealth and power  publicly hits back after receiving criticism (no matter how harshly worded or threatening) doesn't it set up an "underdog" dynamic? And, in doing so, does it somehow start to legitimize racist, misogynist, ad hominem attacks?

Will "clapping back" backfire on The Daily Mail or Kensington Palace, as in the case in Amy's Baking Company? 

Here's a bit of background: After celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey savaged Amy’s Baking Company during an episode of Kitchen Nightmares in 2013, Amy's basically self-destructed on social media when they attacked back. Internet critics descended, and instead of coming up with a positive media campaign, Amy’s Baking Company became increasingly defensive.

Amy’s Baking Company’s responses became increasingly unhinged, to the point that they were absolutely excoriatingly vicious.  You have to read them to believe them.  A article contains some of the jaw-dropping responses.

Amy’s Baking Company ended up having to shutter their business, suffer financial losses, and face the fact that they were victims of their own poor strategies. 
What could they have done differently?

In any case, there seems to be a profound loss of civility and civil discourse, first in the anonymous or almost anonymous commenters on the Internet, and then within groups or hashtag clusters where people who share the same opinions express themselves in harsh ways, perhaps for comic effect, or perhaps simply for rhetorical impact. In any case, the discourse often has real-world impacts, in damaging brand and brand images, along with other possible consequences. 

Responding to bullying is never easy, and an historical analysis of public relations responses to crises or controversial public figures could yield new insights.

Are Social Media Trolls Threatening Your Online Brand Reputation? 

Honorof, Michael (21 Nov 2016) How Amy’s Baking Company Ruined Itself on Social Media.

Tepper, Rachel (14 May 2013) Amy’s Baking Company Freaks Out Online After Epic Meltdown on Gordon Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares” 

Wace, Charlotte (2 Feb 2019) Unmasked: The cruel trolls who spew bile against the Duchess of Sussex on social media, branding her a 'hooker' and 'trash'... and call for #Megxit