It’s often said that the camera doesn’t lie, nor does it blink. But until recently, the camera has always been in the hands of responsible and professional photographers, videographers and journalists. Not in the hands of passengers documenting airline brutality or murderers recording their own deeds as selfies.
Now everyone with a cell phone, and that’s pretty much everyone, is a documentarian, taking cameras and matters into his or her own hands. And thanks to social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, Snapchat, et al, there is no shortage of airtime.
Traditional print media like the New York TIMES, which narrowcasts to only those who choose to pay for it, advertises its policy of “all the news that’s fit to print.” But these social media publishers have yet to restrict the freedom of their presses.
According to Wikipedia, Clint Eastwood’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was one of the greatest and most influential Westerns of all time. But today’s citizens offer cowboy justice at its best and worst because there are no filters on these cameras.
In our Los Angeles media training and social media training world, this is the phenomena of loose cannons. Executives must be Ready for them. It cannot be the “shoot from the hip” approach taken by United Airlines’ CEO Oscar Munoz recently. There must be a sensible crisis plan, designed, prepared and practiced in advance.
Crisis training would have explored whether it is the best policy to boot paying customers to make way for employees. Then, not defend employees’ actions in the face of excessive force without being aware of the details: a passenger being beaten seriously enough to cause a concussion, two broken teeth and a broken nose.
Then, after a deluge of negative traditional and social media not abjectly apologize saying Dr. David Dao “did nothing wrong.” A more appropriate response would have been, Dr. Dao was badly mistreated. But for the safety of all the passengers on my airline, everyone needs to follow the orders given by my people, even if you think those orders are stupid or unfair. And for that, I will not defend his actions either.
The cost to United Airlines in dollars and reputation is impossible to estimate. Each passenger on that flight is now being reimbursed for the price of his or her ticket, which may set a precedent that other companies will be forced to follow every time someone pictures and posts a misdeed. Finally, the passenger who was documented being dragged bloodied and broken down the aisle by countless cell phones is very likely to sue and is from Asia, an important market for the company.
The lesson, of course, is to get in front of a crisis, but to do it correctly. As the victimized doctor’s code would suggest, “First, do no harm.” And not respond impulsively without planning or design.
The world wide web offers the broadest of broadcasting possibilities to everyone who holds a cell phone. And that’s pretty much everyone.