Op-Ed: How to Survive Cyber Shaming

Article by Dominique McIntee | esPResso Committee Member Please note that this article is the opinion of the writer.

Sometimes our words and actions are irreversible and inescapable, particularly when it comes to the Internet and social media. From insulting commentary to major public relations blunders, an emerging phenomenon known as cyber shaming has taken control and has caused even the most minor of wrongdoings to escalate to crisis level.

According to Brittaney Kiefer, writer for PR Week, “Cyber shaming is when a mob of social media users attacks a person or brand online because of a perceived wrong or injustice.” When this happens, the attacked people or brands are forced to deal with the consequences and combat the problem head on.

Monica Lewinsky, who is no stranger to public shame, recently spoke at TED2015 about “The Price of Shame.” In her presentation she emphasized this critical point: “For nearly two decades now, we have slowly been sowing the seeds of shame and public humiliation in our cultural soil. Gossip Web sites, paparazzi, reality programming, politics, news outlets and sometimes hackers traffic in shame. Public humiliation as a blood sport has to stop. We need to return to a long-held value of compassion and empathy.” 

Lewinsky urged the audience to keep one simple thing in mind. “You can insist on a different ending to your story,” she said. Taking control of the situation, and telling your narrative, is much more powerful than letting the media take over.

Some recent examples that PR Week pointed out were when Entenmann’s offered no response after promoting its food under the #NotGuilty hashtag in the midst of the Casey Anthony trial in 2011. Jason Biggs, on the other hand, called out his critics for being too sensitive about his Malaysian Airlines joke. Ultimately, both of these strategies are in poor taste, as neither addresses the issue nor takes responsibility.

Cyber shaming and its aftermath can all be prevented if people simply use common sense and make sound judgment calls before posting on social media. According to Wahoo Gazette and “Late Show with David Letterman” writer, Michael McIntee, “It’s important to maintain a positive image in the media.” From his experience, once a company is under scrutiny in the television world, it is difficult for it to avoid harsh backlash.  McIntee asserts that we must exercise caution online and on other communication mediums. Industries and people need to find a “middle ground” solution– one that is not laced with arrogance, insensitivity or muted silence.

Luckily for public relations enthusiasts, PR Week provided a short and right-to-the point list of tips to apply whenever we, or an organization we are representing, fall victim to cyber shaming:

  1. Respond immediately when you are in a controversy, time is your enemy
  2. Always apologize and take responsibility for the mistake
  3. Turn your online presence into something positive

By following these simple steps, you and the clients you work for can avoid catastrophe.


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