Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
April 13, 2009 8:35 PM

Before You Go Bashing…

There is one thing that Journalists do that Bloggers could learn a lot from: checking facts and sources.

One of the best things about New Media is that anyone who has a thought can publish it to the world. One of the worst things about New Media is that anyone who has a thought that may not be accurate can publish it to the world.

Thoughts spread... right or wrong.

It's easy to see how a little news item or a thought (or even a rumour) can brew up to be a lot more than a storm in a teacup. Tools like Twitter and Facebook make it even easier to publish something. The truth is that a lot of the times issues or news items that brew up to the top of the trending topics turn out to be a misunderstanding, or a mistake, or just plain wrong.

Sadly, people don't like admitting that they are wrong.

So, what happens? They beat that dead horse. They start in with the conspiracy theories, or how the person/company being accused is white-washing the scenario, or blatantly lying to cover it up. It's easy to keep on your thought (even if you're wrong). It's hard to actually admit your wrong, and it's even harder to go out and actually get a quote from the original source.

We also tend to slap and bash those that don't respond right away. The truth is - on many occasions - it takes a little bit of time to analyze the situation, figure out where the fault lies (if at all), and to formulate a plan of communication and reaction. Not everyone has the luxury of being solely responsible to their keyboard and armchair. In the past couple of weeks, there have been multiple instances where major "fails" were promoted, published and provoked through channels like Twitter that were - in the end - not fully accurate.

If you owe it to your community to share your raw feelings and thoughts without all of the facts, don't you also owe that same audience and community the truth (and maybe an apology)?

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by rick murray
    Mitch Joel

    Hey Mitch,

    As a guy who screws up with some regularity and gets eviscerated on a far more frequent basis by the under-informed and just plain bitterati, I wholeheartedly endorse your call for what the FDA calls "fair balance." Now, watch us both get nailed for this!

    RWM

    Reply
  • Posted by D Bastien
    Mitch Joel

    I got that reaction - that I wasn't being constructive enough with this post:

    http://blog.gc20.ca/index.php/2009/03/pco-misses-another-opportunity-to-demonstrate-web-20-support-my-upcoming-letter-to-pco/

    (I should shorten the URL on that, eh?)

    This post didn't have the fact-checking necessary, but was about how there was a webpage missing so much - context and opportunity.

    There were a few interesting comments on how my tone should have been different, and much more comments personally and by email on that.

    I since wrote 2 posts that exist only in draft form - I was worried exactly about that - beating a dead horse and putting attention on something (my tone) that may not have been a big deal about.

    But yes, agreed - making corrections and admitting you're wrong is very important - not only on blogs, but anywhere. With blogs it's more serious - blogs are web 2.0 in that they're connected, to readers, but also with other blogs. Lose touch with other blogs and you're just an online journal. (I may be wrong... :)

    Reply
  • Posted by David Pullara
    Mitch Joel

    Very well said, Mitch.

    When you're wrong, it's been my experience that it's best to just admit your error, provide a genuine apologize, make any necessary amends, and move on!

    Strangely, I've found that doing so actually builds trust (and dare I say it, respect) with those you've affected with your error... perhaps because we live in a world where "cover-ups" and "cover-your-@sses" are the norm?

    PS> Personally, I think it's okay to be the first person to criticize a mistake... IF (and only if) you're also the first person to praise when things go well.

    Reply
  • Posted by anonymous coward
    anonymous coward

    Kinda disagree here. Yes, it's tough being a big clunky corporation having to respond quickly in the age of social media to avoid PR disasters. But all that means is that the game is changing.

    When tens of thousands of people can cause a PR disaster for a company like Amazon overnight because of - what now appears to be - one programming error at Amazon.fr that spread, and it happens on a holiday weekend and Amazon is slow to respond and doesn't take decisive action while people Twitter away, is it mob mentality? Is it unfair?

    Well, I can see the basis for your arguments. But I'd argue back that it just means that all companies have to think long and hard about what they would do as a response scenario if this were to happen to them.

    Social media's not going away, and the "wisdom of crowds" occasionally means that the excesses of crowds will have their say.

    On the whole, I think the online community via Twitter and other channels was doing the right thing, overall, in reaction to - let's face it - what appeared to be a blatant discriminatory policy. And it was successful. #Amazonfail managed, in less than 48 hours, to get Amazon to start fixing the issue and restoring the rankings to de-ranked authors, highlighted issues of censorship, and did all of that solely through the power of free speech. Isn't that how it's supposed to work?

    So PR firms, owners, managers, customer service employees, no matter what industry you work in, there's some soul-searching to do. What's the best way to react to a PR emergency like this? You no longer have the luxury of a couple of days of meetings to devise a strategy. The game has changed. Either change with it or get hurt. That's the lesson here.

    Reply
  • I'm not sure that's the lesson at all.

    Turns out to be a tech glitch, but people are still ranting about other stuff, and there seems to be a whole lot less volume on the fact that it's "tech" not "types of people."

    It's hard to take decisive action when you don't know what the root of the problem is.

    I love Social Media. I think the Wisdom of Crowds helped uncover this glitch. Which is great. It's the jumping to conclusions and then not going back to say, "whoops, I may have jumped the gun here a little" that worries me.

    Reply
  • Posted by Joe Boughner
    Mitch Joel

    Great points, Mitch. I think the problem is compounded too by the scale involved.

    Newspapers usually abide by a policy of making sure the correction matches the scope of the original error.

    That's nearly impossible to acheive in the social media realm. Even if the original blogger or tweeter recognizes their mistake and corrects it, there's no way to compel the hundreds or thousands of retweeters to do the same.

    I'm not saying mainstream journalists always do it right. But at least there's a professional expectation to do so.

    Reply
  • Posted by Jack Zufelt
    Mitch Joel

    Not being able to admit when you are wrong can be a very bad thing. The potential to make a huge mountain out of a small mole hill is there is a person isn't willing to accept that they might be wrong.

    Reply
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