By Tony Samson
DEMOLITION JOBS used to employ investigations by the legislature or some regulatory agency aided by biased witnesses. TV coverage of the proceedings (live with no commercial breaks) were aired and then summarized in the next news cycle. Battling narratives were played out until the public got tired and switched back to their teleseryes (soap operas) with more interesting twists and turns, villains and victims, and commercials for pee breaks.
The art of demolition has changed. It is much easier now to destroy reputations and damage them for good.
The weaponization of social media and the employment of troll armies with message discipline make demolition jobs easier and quicker, and maybe less costly? Public opinion is now segmented and targeted for specific groups.
The combination of unverified accusations, conspiracy scenarios, and celebrity sniping (with their fan bases getting into the act) does not wait for the news cycle. Trolls post attacks on social media as easily as photos of what one had for lunch — look at that scrumptious canard a l‘orange. And unlike food critics and chat groups, the assailants of reputations are anonymous and work from home, before attending to their book reports.
In trials by publicity, the verdict is determined ahead of any evidence or chance for defense. A court case has stricter rules of evidence and tends to be stretched out over time. The results may be the same with a biased judge, but courts just get too technical. They don’t offer sound bites and engage only lawyers who talk to each other. What does “quo warranto” mean?
Much handier as a battering ram to break down the doors of a good reputation is a coordinated social media blast. Still, those who start a fire can find the wind blowing in their direction. They then beg the courts for a “gag rule” to stop a target from exposing not-so-hidden agendas like a change of ownership of a company. (Stick to the facts? Yeah, right.)
The rise of social media in the demolition business can still employ traditional media to pick up the sparks and spread the fire. The business of reputation mangling becomes a two-headed monster with both digital and traditional media at work.
Public figures can be pressured by attacks to change positions on franchises, government contracts in force, and country embargoes of flights. They will cite new information. (The task force recommended that the country embargo be lifted). Maybe, the sudden realization of the public good is even invoked.
This is the era of social media being used to demonize persons and corporations. Stop me if you’ve heard of troll farms being used as mercenaries for hire in taking down previously unblemished reputations. It’s a matter of having a set of talking points and then it’s ready, aim, post.
The biggest damage, especially for large corporations dealing with the public sector as contractors, franchise holders, or utilities is reputational risk. This risk affects access to credit, customer stickiness, and stock price for a listed corporation. The mention of a corporation or business person in an unprovoked diatribe launched in some unrelated event like a ribbon-cutting of a new facility is the signal for the launch of a concerted troll attack.
News reporting as the recorder of events and trends has been devalued. The phrase “fake news” has been uttered too often. Legitimate news has been thrown into the soup of unreliable reports. Conspiracy theories are unverified and even in chat groups there is a debate on whether incredible items spelling the end of mankind (is the virus a biological weapon gone wrong?) should be posted and reposted to spread panic.
Divisiveness is fostered by troll wars. The them-and-us approach in the national conversation has eroded the meaning of the common good. Can the idea of promoting the country’s welfare flourish in this social climate change? Has cynicism replaced patriotism and love of country? Maybe, weaponized social media armies will eventually cancel each other out. The nuclear doctrine of mutually assured destruction (MAD) ensures that there will be no winners in the exchange of fire. And ironically, this belief preserves the status quo of nuclear deterrence.
When a marketing candidate for Netflix was supposedly asked who the biggest competitor of the company was, her short answer was “sleep.” (Hired.) Maybe the trolling and demolition jobs will stop when we stop paying attention.
Can we just go back to watching movies? Hey, you can forget about the one where Bad Boy plays Andres Bonifacio… unless you love farce.
Tony Samson is Chairman and CEO, TOUCH xda.