One of the Internet’s most popular websites is the free online encyclopedia called Wikipedia. The site is viewed as an objective source of information and contains entries and listings on the world’s most common subjects as well as mundane and little-known topics.
Wikipedia is a classic web-based creation. While the Internet itself killed the old, trusty home library of encyclopedias (we had the World Book at my house), it was Wikipedia that drove the nails in the coffin and tossed the first handful of dirt.
After typing a general topic into any search engine, you will likely find the Wikipedia listing on the first page of search results and usually near the top. Search engines love Wikipedia because the site is oft-visited and it remains a free, self-governed site that has no advertising, shareholders or marketing agenda.
For individuals and companies that have a listing on Wikipedia, that page will likely be the first thing that most people view when they search for you on Google. This can be a powerful marketing tool – assuming the information on the site is to your liking.
Hey, anyone can edit it, so I will just write whatever I want!
What’s most fascinating about Wikipedia is that literally anyone can edit it and make entries. So, if you happen to be an expert on samurai swords, you can post information on the site about their history, manufacturing, etc. Even if you don’t know a damn thing about the sharp implements, you can also post information. But beware the Wikipedia editors. They will slice and dice you if you publish inaccurate or improperly attributed information.
So you want to be on Wikipedia. Question 1: Are you notable enough?
In my opinion, a Wikipedia listing is a badge of honor for a CEO or top executive. Many PR people have tried and failed to get such a listing approved and published about one of their clients.
But every person can’t have a Wikipedia page, only notable ones. Wikipedia’s community of editors will review a potential listing to ensure it passes notability standards. Did the person or company mentioned create something new and different? Is the person a captain of industry? Is it a truly leading, groundbreaking company? Did he, she or it marry a Kardashian? If you aren’t notable, your proposed Wikipedia entry will not see the light of day.
Question 2: So you’re notable, but can you prove it?
Remembering that Wikipedia is an Internet creation, to prove you are notable, someone on the Internet (that isn’t you) needs to back it up. Articles published online in mainstream media outlets are the best evidence to prove notability. If the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times says you are notable, and the story is readily available online, then you have a much better chance of passing the test. If a lesser known publication wrote about you pre-Internet, it is much tougher. Also, Wikipedia notability police don’t care about press releases written about you, information posted about you on your website (even if it is accurate), or articles you have written for trade publications. You aren’t notable unless a third party – like a classic broad sheet daily newspaper – says it, and it is easily found/linkable online.
Question 3: Can you get past/withstand/outmaneuver the Wikipedia police?
OK, so you believe your entry passes the notability test and you want to publish it. There are many obstacles. First, you can’t publish your own entry or the Wikipedia police will scotch it. They want entries written and posted by objective writers. Worse yet are public relations people. We in the PR biz identified the value of Wikipedia several years ago, and the editors quickly decided that we can’t be objective. If you publish an entry and your email address is (insert name) @DavidPR.com for example, they will identify you as a PR person and stone you. Yes, this has happened to me.
Also, even if you are the best source of information on a topic, the Wikipedia police will pounce. Years ago, we had a client that didn’t like their Wikipedia entry. Silly me, I logged on to the Wikipedia page, made edits and then noted that I was a PR person for the client. I also noted that I would be regularly contributing to the page. Not so fast my friend. Wikipedia editors quickly reversed all of my edits and chastised me for suggesting that anyone so close to the topic could be objective. Undaunted, I changed the edits back and thumbed my nose at the editors. My edits were again reverted and the chastising continued. As the conversation degraded, I retreated to ponder a new approach.
Ever been called a sockpuppet?
A marketing person for my client, not as circumspect as me, went back and made the same edits. The Wikipedia editors decided that my client must have been me – just using another ISP. I was branded a “sockpuppet” – a person who impersonates another online. After a moment of being aghast, I laughed my head off.
Here’s a secret
The next time I wanted to create a Wikipedia entry, I worked with a third party editor to draft the page and completely distanced my connection (and my PR guy DNA) from Wikipedia. The page topic passed the notability test, the text was properly written and attributed, and the page was eventually published. To get a page published, you have to pass all the tests and then artfully game the system so your “perceived lack of objectivity” will not be immediately noticeable to Wikipedia editors. It’s tricky but not impossible.
While I don’t claim to be a Wikipedia expert, I do believe I have shed the sockpuppet label.
Ever had a run-in with Wikipedia? Please share as you are certainly not alone.
author: John P. David
One doesn’t typically equate Miami with artifacts and prehistoric ruins, but today the city has a bona fide archaeological controversy on its hands. And while my knowledge of antiquities is best measured by how many times I have seen Raiders of the Lost Ark, I do know a good PR mess when I see one. This tale began earlier this month when archaeologists announced they had uncovered remnants of a Tequesta Indian Village on prime downtown Miami real estate. The site, called “highly significant” by one anthropologist, includes eight large circles comprised of uniformly carved holes in native limestone that are believed to be foundation holes for dwellings dating as far back as 2,000 years.
The land is at the mouth of the Miami River and literally in the shadow of skyscrapers, pricey condos and some of the area’s finest restaurants. The problem is that the land is owned by a developer who plans to build a movie complex, restaurants and a 34-story hotel on the spot.
Those who know just a bit of Miami’s history will tell you this find was not a surprise. The downtown area was home to some of Miami’s first inhabitants and was also the site of a historical hotel. Again, it’s prime dirt.
When the story broke, the developer, MDM Development Group, took a practically cordial stance regarding the announcement. They knew such an archaeological find was a possibility. From the Miami Herald:
The developer has offered to carve out the limestone holding one or two of the larger circles on the site and display those in a planned public plaza. In recent weeks, MDM officials have discussed doing more in meetings with city and county planners and preservation officials, but have made no promises or commitments.
“We will do our utmost,’’ MDM director Ian Swanson said. “There is no easy answer to this at all.’’
But the tale got interesting about a week ago when it appeared that the developer’s “carve out” plan wasn’t going to take hold. MDM, through its attorney, made a complete about-face regarding the archaeological findings. Attorney Eugene Stearns, a well-known civil litigator, publicly downplayed the significance of the site, calling the findings “imaginary,” “fanciful” and “hokum” (my personal favorite.)
MDM’s new, aggressive public stance was widely reported. Again from the Miami Herald:
“You’re being sold a bill of goods,’’ Stearns said, complaining that news outlets have credulously reported the findings. “There is no new discovery here.’’
“I don’t believe they will survive the most basic cross-examination,” he said. “My wife sees faces in clouds. One of my partners said you could take these postholes and draw a Star of David and say they were Jewish.”
Aside from the colorful language and gossipy appeal, why is this interesting? Because when you are fighting a battle with a public relations component, sometimes you have to dig-in and play rough.
I didn’t foresee the abrupt change by MDM. The company went from being supportive of the findings to, well, calling them “hokum.” It bears noting that the archaeologists are actually paid by MDM.
When I discussed the situation with a developer friend of mine, he wasn’t the least bit surprised by MDM’s tactics. “The city will walk all over you if you don’t play hard ball,” he said. MDM is drawing its line in the sand (or perhaps limestone), and the developer will now work hard to secure concessions from the city, if they indeed can’t build their project as designed.
This stance makes it tough on the PR people who were likely hoping for an amicable solution. Reversing field puts a ding in the developer’s credibility and protracted fights can erode a brand. But when millions of dollars are at stake, sometimes you have to stop playing nice and do what is best for the business.
When you go back and look at the public statements bythe developer, it is clear that the executives left room for a change in tactics.
It will be interesting to see what happens next . We will hear from more experts and likely get more varied opinions about the archaeological significance of the site. Unfortunately, the city lacks the resources to pay the developer market value for the property, and the developer had prior knowledge that this issue could arise.
There’s nothing fanciful, imaginary or hokum about the upcoming battle – likely to be hard fought in the legal system and the court of public opinion.
Author: John P. David
Last December I wrote a blog post about the movie Anchorman 2, and after it ran, a producer from Al Jazeera America called and asked if I would be interested in appearing on the cable network to discuss the marketing of the Will Ferrell movie. It made me pause and think.
I knew Al Jazeera America had purchased Current TV (famously paying Al Gore millions) and that it was working to gain a foothold in the U.S. – but little else. The network is not on my cable system, and its viewership is quite small compared to CNN, FOX and the other major networks.
But mainly, my concern was that it was freakin’ Al Jazeera, the network of the Muslim world which for many Americans is synonymous with publishing messages from Osama Bin Laden and other terrorism related news. If I appeared on the network, what would my friends, clients and prospects think?
I decided to take an informal poll of a few people within my circle and gauge their reactions. I asked the question the same way to several people.
To my politically conservative brother Tom I asked “What would say if I told you I was appearing on Al Jazeera America?” His reply: “That’s your industry. You are in the media business, so you should have no issue with appearing on any network.”
Same question to my former Army paratrooper brother Chris: “What would you say if told you I was appearing on Al Jazeera America?” His reply, after a brief pause: “Taliban.” “Even if I’m talking about a silly topic like Ron Burgundy?” I asked. Same response: “Taliban.” (If you know my brother, you are laughing right now because the brevity and poignancy of the response are in complete alignment with his personality.)
One of my more liberal college buddies said I shouldn’t sweat it for a second.
Two other close friends said I should do it but not place the clip on my website.
Yet another friend, a media savvy attorney, said “You should absolutely do it. We have been on the network many times.”
What would you do?
As background, Al Jazeera America (AJAM for short) is owned by the Qatar-based Al Jazeera Media Network. Launched last August, it competes with CNN, HLN, MSNBC and Fox News Channel. Al Jazeera Media Network purchased Current TV last year, reportedly for about $500 million. Al Gore was said to have had a 20 percent stake in Current TV – you do the math.
AJAM quickly proceeded to build a new network aimed at covering the United States and compete with the big boys – and reportedly without a Muslim spin. To that end, the network hired senior executives from ABC News, CNN, CBS and MSNBC to oversee programming and brought in top talent including former host of CNN’s American Morning Soledad O’Brien, CNN’s Ali Velshi, CBS’s Sheila MacVicar and former Good Morning America news anchor Antonio Mora. His show on AJAM called Consider This was interested in interviewing yours truly.
On paper it seems like a straightforward decision. A national network, run by U.S.- based news executives and staffed with well-known faces wants to interview you. Do you do it?
The question begets more questions: Is our country ready for an Arab-owned news network? Twelve years after the 9/11 attacks, are we OK with receiving our news from a source so closely aligned with the Muslim world? Would there be perceived guilt by association? I’m not sure what the answers are.
I like to believe that I’m a progressive thinker, so I decided to accept the invitation, but ultimately the decision was taken out of my hands.
Before major holidays, all news outlets work overtime to get as much of their programming as possible completed and in the can– so journalists can enjoy Christmas dinner like the rest of us. Due to logistical reasons, the network ended up using a Hollywood-based expert to talk about the movie – leaving me on the sidelines.
To date, I have never appeared on Al Jazeera America. I was asked. I said yes.
What would you do?
Author: John P. David
Managing negative internet content has become part of the marketing mix for many companies. And if we judge by the frequency of ads on satellite radio for online reputation management firms, it might lead you to believe that we all have a problem that needs fixing.
Each day, individuals and businesses around the country have to deal with negative content online. Restaurants get bad reviews, businesses get slammed for poor customer service and some people have Internet skeletons which inconveniently appear in search engine results.
What does one do if this happens? The spectrum of solutions runs wide: from “let it ride” and do nothing to engaging in black ops activities that make bad things disappear for a steep price tag.
Here are some guidelines:
Websites like Yelp and TripAdvisor offer an easy platform for anyone to comment on restaurants, bars, hotels and attractions. If your business is victim of a bad review on one of these sites, you have two options that are not mutually exclusive. First, these sites enable the business owner to respond to both positive and negative reviews, so if a customer blasts your business, you can apologize or fire back. Typically, I recommend responding in a genial manner rather than letting a negative review rule the day.
The other option is to put forth the extra effort to secure positive reviews from your happy customers. It can pay off in many ways. For example, two years ago my family visited South Carolina; and in advance we booked a trip on Adventure Harbor Tours, the number-one-rated attraction on TripAdvisor in Charleston. We arrived for our tour and learned that the boat taking us to see Fort Sumter and visit Morris Island was an 18-foot open fisherman with seats for 12. The captain and his crew were fantastic and led my family on a great morning of sightseeing and hunting for shark’s teeth. Yes, you can find shark’s teeth in Charleston Harbor– the captain practically guarantees it. As we pulled into the dock on the return trip, Captain Howie asked us to rate his company on TripAdvisor if we had a good time. My kids happily complied when we returned to our hotel that night. Adventure Harbor Tours remains the top-rated attraction in Charleston, and last summer we returned to find Captain Howie had bought another boat for his fleet – more than double the size which accommodates about 30 guests. Howie, who is not my client but will be happy to read this, has hundreds of positive reviews which not only drive business but also drown-out the few negative ones.
Note that you have to be careful about trying to “game” sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor. A few years ago, I learned of a business that was asking customers to use its onsite computers to post reviews on Yelp. The review site flagged the reviews because they all originated from the same Internet Service Provider (ISP).
Defamatory Blog Posts
If information is published online that is false and defamatory, you can work to have it removed via legal channels. Most blogging platforms have terms of service which enable the victims of defamatory posts to have them removed. This is largely the realm of internet law attorneys. I have written about this in the past, and the first step is to contact an attorney. If someone publishes something defamatory and uses one of the better-known blogging platforms like Wordpress, Blogger or Tumblr, then you have legal options to have it removed.
Negative Content – Which Happens to be True
The options to combat negative Internet posts run the gamut:
1) Push it down. The online reputation management industry is dominated by companies like Reputation.com which work to “push down” negative search results. This tactic, also known as suppression, doesn’t get information removed from search engines but rather pushes negative content down by flooding the Internet with positive or benign competing content. The companies that thrive in this area will charge anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars to create new online content that will appear on the search engines ahead of negative posts. The negative information will still be available but, if successful, it will be on page two or three of search results – pages that a much smaller percentage of searchers view.
2) Respond. In some instances, it makes sense to respond to negative Internet posts. Third party companies will review internet posts, analyze them for accuracy and adherence to journalistic standards and publish a report of their findings. Companies can then use the report to counter the negative information or convince the author of the negative post to remove it.
3) Covert Ops. For those who have tried some of the steps mentioned above but still have a problem, there’s one more option: the black ops of reputation management. Search engine companies are incredibly sophisticated, big businesses. As such, these organizations have thousands of standards and terms and conditions which they follow regarding publishing search results. There’s such a vast amount of information published every day that they can’t possibly check every single page and entry – this job is left to sophisticated algorithms. The covert ops companies, often run by former search company techies, know the vast terms and conditions and can work on your behalf to get negative information de-listed from sites like Google. This means that the information is still online but it is no longer displayed by the search engines. Because these companies work behind the scenes, in most instances the original publisher of the negative information has no idea why the post “disappeared” from search engines. This area of reputation management is amazing and truly cutting edge, so you can imagine it comes at a heavy price tag. Be prepared to shell-out tens of thousands of dollars for this service.
Have you ever faced a problem with negative internet content? What did you do about it? And if you remain stymied by such a problem, give me a call because I might be able to help.
Author: John P. David
Like millions of other football fans, I watched the NFC championship game when the Seattle Seahawks defeated the San Francisco 49ers to advance to the Super Bowl. At the end of the game Seattle defensive back Richard Sherman was interviewed by Fox’s Erin Andrews, and he proceeded into an epic rant disguised as an interview. The Seahawks had just advanced to the Super Bowl, but the only thing Sherman wanted to do was disparage 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree. The vitriol spewing, wild-eyed Sherman appeared unhinged. Take a look.
Because he plays on the West Coast for a small market team, this was the first exposure to Sherman for many fans. Frankly, I think a huge chunk of the American population thought he was nuts. (Some viewers, myself included, immediately took to social media because the rant was reminiscent of fictional character Clubber Lang from Rocky III — as portrayed by iconic actor Mr. T.)
News of Sherman’s rant spread like wildfire and very quickly started to overshadow the accomplishment of the Seahawks. He didn’t back down that evening, and many television personalities teed-off on Sherman, vilifying him and calling him a thug among other names.
What happened next is very interesting. Less than 24 hours after the rant, Sherman did an excellent job of repairing his tarnished image. Whether he mapped it out or not, he followed some critical steps in managing a PR crisis.
In the clip below from his news conference the following day, take notice of how he handled himself.
First, he apologized and he did it quickly. While not completely backing down from his statements about his arch-enemy Crabtree, he apologized about the rant and acknowledged that his actions steered the spotlight away from his teammates. He didn’t run away from his problem, and he took advantage of the media access offered to pro football players to quickly work on clearing the air.
Second, he was authentic – and he smiled. Sherman made it clear that his previous comments were made in the heat of battle. He was contrite, measured and didn’t just offer soundbytes. Most importantly, he countered the wild-eyed crazy imagery by smiling and appearing a thousand times more approachable. Remember, in the digital age, it’s not just what you say but how you look when you say it.
Lastly, he had backup and third-party validation. Sherman has a reputation as an aggressive and strong-willed football player, but his backstory is also well-known among the media. Though raised in Compton, a pretty rough city in Southern California, Sherman graduated second in his high school class and attended Stanford University. He graduated in three years while playing football and even started on master’s degree studies. He’s known as a smart guy and not as a thug. Because of this, other people came to his defense. Members of the media, other football players and his friends made it very clear that his rant was not emblematic of the man.
In review, some lessons to keep in mind during a PR crisis:
- Apologize quickly.
- Be authentic in your communications.
- Seek out third party validation.
While Sherman’s rant will be remembered for many years to come, it is no longer a focal point of Super Bowl media coverage. He’s taken himself off the front page. Now we can focus on important things – like the weather.
author: John P. David
While I don’t know who will win next week’s Super Bowl game between the Seahawks and the Broncos, I can say with certainty that, for many, the best part of the game will be the commercials. Advertisers have a lot at stake, paying nearly $4 million for the average 30-second spot, and they are leaving little to chance. They don’t just pick their best commercial and hope it catches our eye on Super Sunday – they start promoting the spots online and on television in advance. Yes, that’s right, we now have commercials promoting the commercials.
Budweiser, the king of Super Bowl advertisers, will show a series of spots promoting Bud Light via the tagline “Whatever Is Coming.” We know one spot includes Arnold Schwarzenegger playing ping-pong dressed like Bjorn Borg. Another promo features actor Don Cheadle with a llama. And yet another claims to have 412 actors, 58 hidden cameras, five rock stars (looks like Maroon 5), four celebrities and one “unsuspecting guy.” I’m not sure what “Whatever” is, but Bud Light will explain it a week from Sunday.
The promo videos have already had more than 3.5 million views, and the Arnold spots began running during the NFL playoffs.
Why are Super Bowl ads such a big deal? Answer: eyeballs. This year’s game will likely be one of the most watched television broadcasts of all time with more than 109 million viewers. The Super Bowl generates more ad revenue than all seven games of the World Series or all three games during the NCAA Final Four weekend.
The large audience draws top-tier advertisers that use the game as an influential branding platform, and the commercials themselves are now an integral part of the Super Bowl watching experience. People don’t change the channel during the Super Bowl, and they are less likely to go to the kitchen for extra dip during game breaks.
When you combine it all together, you get a massive, committed audience watching DVR-proof live sports. It makes for valuable air time.
To get the most of the big investment, some advertisers are turning their 30-second spots into large scale multimedia events. Intuit, maker of accounting software QuickBooks, is letting the public vote to select one small company’s commercial to appear during the Super Bowl. All four finalists are neat small businesses, but I particularly like the commercial for Poop – All Natural Dairy Compost.
Speaking of potty humor, Doritos has a contest to “Crash the Super Bowl.” The chip maker is letting the public vote on fan-made commercials, and the winner will appear during the big game. The videos have been viewed more than six million times. My favorite is one called “Time Machine,” but my son cast his vote for a spot called “Finger Cleaner.” He’s eleven, so brace yourself.
Not to be outdone, Pepsi is suggesting that halftime isn’t just for halftime anymore. To promote the Pepsi-sponsored mid-game concert featuring Bruno Mars (I expect he will be great, by the way), Pepsi produced teaser ads which have already been running online. The soft drink maker also held a “pre-halftime show” concert in Milligan, Nebraska. Wait, what? Yep, it seems that Milligan is halfway from one side of the country to the other. Pepsi invaded the town of 275 residents and brought in country star Lee Brice as the headliner for a one-time show. The videos have earned more than two million hits and counting.
If you want to get in on the fun, visit the Doritos and Intuit sites and cast your vote. You can also watch many of the teaser ads on YouTube’s Ad Blitz channel – which has conveniently aggregated many of the promotional videos.
I hope you enjoy the game because I already know you will like the commercials. Let me know which ones you are most eager to see.
author: John P. David
When I was in high school, I read All the President’s Men, by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein about the Watergate scandal. Aside from being a fascinating read for a young guy who loved journalism, it was one of my first exposures to the concept of media sources and how they are treated by reporters and editors. In the book (and also in the Academy Award-nominated film starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman), the reporters juggle their sources and dance the fine lines of attribution as they investigate the Nixon administration’s involvement in the Watergate break-in and beyond. Some information was “on the record.” Some was “off the record” and still other nuggets were offered “on background.” There was even information given on “deep background” by the most famous confidential source of all time “Deep Throat.” The interplay was fascinating, and in some instances they screwed up – improperly attributed and incorrect information ended up in print. Sometimes journalism is more art than science.
Recently, I have dealt with situations where individuals were upset with media coverage and felt they were misquoted by reporters. In one case, a friend of mine believed he was giving information “off the record,” but the reporter printed it anyway and attributed it to him. As you can imagine, he was upset.
Next came my lecture, loosely titled: “Never go off the record…well almost never.”
First, the requisite definitions according to the Associated Press:
- On the record. The information can be used with no caveats, quoting the source by name.
- Off the record. The information cannot be used for publication.
- Background. The information can be published but only under conditions negotiated with the source. Generally, the sources do not want their names published but will agree to a description of their position. AP reporters should object vigorously when a source wants to brief a group of reporters on background and try to persuade the source to put the briefing on the record.
- Deep background. The information can be used but without attribution. The source does not want to be identified in any way, even on condition of anonymity.
- In general, information obtained under any of these circumstances can be pursued with other sources to be placed on the record.
Most public relations pros tell you never to go off the record, and some reporters say “there is no such thing as off-the-record.” As you can see by the AP guidelines which say “AP reporters should object vigorously…” journalists are not in the business of getting information off the record. They want information which can fill their newspaper, magazine, website or newscast.
Here’s why I say never go off the record, and it’s a bit of a different take. The main PR mantra is “if you don’t want to see it in print, then don’t say it.” I agree with this wholeheartedly, but I also don’t like off the record because it is too easy to screw up. First, if you read the AP definitions, you will notice that the differences among off the record, background and deep background are nuanced. And because most people don’t know the difference, the true definition might not be honored. The source’s concept of off the record and the reporter’s might be different. Risky.
My other reason why you shouldn’t go off the record has to do with control and responsibility. When you go off the record, you are adding another layer of responsibility for the journalist. Not only do they have to understand the story and properly quote you, but now you are asking them to make the appropriate notation – either mental or physical – that for one part of the conversation you were on the record while for another you were off. For busy reporters who are being hammered to produce more copy for shrinking wages, I think this too is a big risk.
But what about “almost never?” If you want to go off the record, it has to be strategic. For example, if you know of wrongdoing by a competitor but don’t want it traced back to you, then give the information to a journalist off the record. If the information is accurate and the reporter can get confirmation elsewhere, then you have advanced your cause. Don’t go off the record to gossip or just to show how smart you are. Aside from not being strategic, it opens you up to risk.
If you are ever in a situation where you want to share sensitive information with a journalist, the most important rule (after calling a PR person to help you) is to set very clear ground rules about attribution before the conversation starts.
Most media interviews are straightforward and on the record, but it helps to be knowledgeable about the definitions and rules of attribution.
Have you ever been misquoted or had information inaccurately attributed? I would enjoy hearing your feedback.
author: John P. David
Online reputation management takes on many forms. When negative information is posted online about a person or business, a number of strategies can be employed. A business can respond to the criticism on review sites, like TripAdvisor or Yelp, by replying to a negative comment. One can also reply to an offending blog post. Some companies employ online reputation management companies to push down (suppress) negative content.
However, if a web posting is truly defamatory, then it can be removed, but you are going to need legal counsel. We have pulled together some basic information on defamation, culled from our experience with journalism and media law. (We are not lawyers and what we have posted is not legal advice. If you think you have been defamed, contact a lawyer right away.)
Defamation, simply put, is a catch-all term for any statement that is knowingly false and intended to hurt someone’s reputation. It is further subdivided into libel (written defamation) and slander (spoken defamation.) Because of the infinite memory of the Internet, defamatory statements that are posted online often have a significant shelf life, which can have a long-term negative effect on the individual or business mentioned.
If you feel you need to take legal action, there are steps that can be taken to remedy the situation. Successfully trying an online defamation case can prove difficult but it can be done.
If the content you want removed is something negative about you or your business, this type of item usually cannot be removed without legal documentation supporting your claims. Under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA), hosting companies and websites are under no legal obligation to remove allegedly defamatory content without a court’s determination that the content is knowingly false and harmful towards you or your business.
For example, if you have a bad experience at a restaurant you have the right to go online and write a negative review about that restaurant. Although the owner of the restaurant may not like it, you are allowed to express your opinion. However, you cannot go online and write that your waiter is a pedophile just to get back at him for dropping a plate of pasta in your lap. The bad review is not defamatory but calling the waiter a pedophile is.
In order to prove that something is defamatory four elements must be met:
- There is a false statement of fact.
- The false statement has been publicly published and at least one other person has seen it.
- The false statement was published with some level of fault.
- The false statement must have caused damage to the talked-about person’s reputation.
Providing the legal documentation stating that the content you want removed is defamatory enables websites and hosting companies to assist you. They receive thousands of defamation claims per day, but the majority of those statements are false. If served with a court order stating that the item in question is defamatory, they will take it down.
So, if you find a negative item online and it meets all four points to qualify as defamatory, you should contact an attorney who specializes in Internet defamation. Background information courtesy of www.webfactcheck.com.
author: John P. David
Last Friday night, I took a peek at my Twitter feed and noticed that a marketing guy who I follow named Peter Shankman was pleading for some Internet sanity regarding a woman named Justine Sacco. Said Peter: “Yes [Sacco’s] tweet was awful. But she’s landing to death threats. Come on, Twitter, let’s be better than that.”
Intrigued, I typed her name into the search bar and began decoding what was happening. Sacco had indeed written an awful tweet. The exact words: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white.” She had apparently written it before leaving on a flight from London to South Africa. Many on Twitter were rightly offended, and started to attack her online while she was still mid-flight. Her employer disavowed her before her plane touched down. It’s quite possible that Sacco, who was indeed fired from her job as corporate PR pro, was sacked in mid-air – and hundreds of thousands of people knew about it before she did. Talk about a collision of old world technology and new world communications.
One thing that struck me was the reaction of the Twitter universe. If you had watched the real-time feed of comments about Sacco, you would have witnessed thousands of tweets per hour and the formation of an online lynch mob. Granted, some of the online salvos were meant in jest (and there were some funny ones), but many people were really angry and had no problem unloading their venom on the defenseless Sacco.
Had she written the same tweet but not been on a transcontinental flight sans Wi-Fi, I imagine the tale would be different. She could have quickly deleted the offending tweet before it went viral and perhaps salvaged her job. To her credit, Sacco later apologized. Regardless, there are lessons here.
Digital is fast… Sacco’s plight may have staying power among social media historians as an example of how quickly information can move around the globe. One tweet by a person with a few hundred followers can spread across the Web in a matter of hours and turn into a national news story. Sacco’s “tweet heard ‘round the world” was covered by many major news outlets, and she went from unknown, to famous to infamous in less than a day.
…And forever. We already know we need to be careful about what we post online because “digital is forever.” Copies are made quickly online, and we can no longer “burn the negatives” of images we wish to destroy forever. This time, though, the lesson comes not from a photo taken in a fraternity house by a 20-something but rather an experienced business professional who absolutely should have known better.
Murphy was right. As mentioned earlier, part of what made this a phenomenon was the confluence of events. A PR person writes an offensive tweet and then gets on an airplane. While in the air, it catches viral fire but the author can’t do anything about it. The fact that she was airborne and out of touch just fed the mob. And the impact began to grow exponentially. It’s a “truth is stranger than fiction” scenario which should impart a lesson to all of us that we have to remain vigilant about what we post because there’s always a chance it could go wickedly wrong.
Funny “ha-ha” or funny “weird?” My guess is that Sacco was trying to be funny with her tweet. The “just kidding” line is a dead giveaway. I’m sure even she can’t explain how it was humorous, but the larger point is that sometimes it is best to leave being funny to comedians. After the Carnival Cruise Line “Poop Cruise” last Spring, I wrote a post about the many funny twitter postings that appeared after news broke about the tribulations facing the passengers on the disabled ship. Some of the funniest and most popular tweets were written by professional writers and comedians. It’s one thing to be funny among one’s own circle of friends but completely another to be funny to the masses. And successfully conveying humor in 140 characters is no easy task. Attempting humor about something as terrible as AIDS should be avoided in the same way we don’t discuss sex, politics or religion at cocktail parties.
Sadly for Sacco, her attempt at a joke left no one laughing, except for a sarcastic few within the mob – which was certainly not her intended audience.
What do you think? Will Sacco be able to bounce back? Does your company have a plan in place for social media blunders?
Author: John P. David
The other day, classic rock band REO Speedwagon joined a growing list of musical acts that pulled-out of an upcoming concert series at SeaWorld in Orlando. The bands are protesting the theme park’s treatment of its killer whales as portrayed in the documentary film Blackfish. From what I know about orca public relations, I think SeaWorld’s got a big problem.
One morning about 20 years ago, I went to work expecting to write newsletter copy for an accounting firm client but was informed that for the next week or so, I would be on the whale team. The PR firm that employed me represented the Miami Seaquarium, and CBS News was planning on interviewing the theme park’s executives that afternoon about its killer whale and the impact of the movie Free Willy. I spent the day watching whale shows and helping prep park executives for the interview.
The messaging was straightforward. The whale had lived in captivity for 20 years and was reliant on a park-provided diet of restaurant-quality fish. If you set the orca free, the Seaquarium biologists said, there was no proof she would be able to fend for herself. Captive killer whales are well-tended-to in human care but haven’t been exposed to diseases as in the wild, so they might end up getting sick if freed. In addition, the whales were said to live longer in captivity than in the wild. Lastly, the executives asked why they would release the whale or send her away in some other manner as she was “part of the family.”
The CBS interview went well, and the hype over Free Willy eventually subsided. While detractors of parks have been hammering away at their animal practices for decades, parks such as SeaWorld have successfully portrayed their adversaries as radicals while bolstering their own images as leading marine biologists and even as conservationists. I have since visited both the Seaquarium and SeaWorld with my wife and kids. That’s gonna change.
Over the weekend, I watched Blackfish and it presents a damning case against keeping killer whales in captivity. (Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen wrote a fantastic piece about the movie and expertly summarizes the film and its significance.) In my opinion, the old message points won’t work, and SeaWorld faces a tougher predicament. Blackfish packs a much bigger punch than Free Willy.
Here are some major issues that plague theme parks with killer whales:
Killer Whales are More Dangerous in Captivity
The protagonist in Blackfish is an orca named Tilikum. He’s the largest male killer whale in captivity and has killed three people: a rookie trainer who accidentally fell in his tank when he lived at a park in Canada, a drifter who snuck into his pool at SeaWorld and a veteran trainer who was dragged under and mauled during a dinner show in Orlando. Despite his criminal record, Tilikum is actually a sympathetic character as he has largely been mentally and physically abused in captivity for nearly 30 years. Watch the film and you feel bad for him. But a key point is that Tilikum has killed three people while there are no known cases of orcas killing a human in the wild.
Credibility is Spelled C-N-N
The Blackfish story is told through a series of compelling interviews with former SeaWorld trainers, who now feel the whales should be freed - along with Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigators who believe trainers should never be in the water with whales. While there are many known anti-SeaWorld activists out there, they aren’t in this film. For SeaWorld to attempt to paint the filmmakers as biased, they must attack their own former employees. It won’t work because the trainers are believable and very credible. In addition, the film is backed by CNN Films and was nominated for a Sundance Film Festival award. Blackfish oozes credibility.
Years of Misdirection Have Eroded Trust
SeaWorld, which declined to be interviewed for Blackfish, gets the typical villain treatment in the documentary. And if I was counseling them, I likely would have agreed that there was little to be gained from participating in the film. But even since the film was released and as the major bands boycotted the park, SeaWorld has offered little to increase their credibility and reputation. The film suggests that SeaWorld covered-up the true causes of two deaths involving Tilikum, and trainers who regularly jumped in the water with the whale were unaware that he had earlier killed the trainer in Canada. Blackfish also blasts SeaWorld on the topic of whale lifespan in captivity. It appears that orcas may, in fact, live longer in the wild than captivity - previously a strong message point.
What would Shamu do?
Perhaps there’s a chance that SeaWorld and the other parks with killer whales can weather this storm, but I think we will see a consistent degradation of these brands over time. Remember, Free Willy reached its peak of popularity in a time before social media. SeaWorld will face a growing number of online campaigns, and more high profile people will come out against the whale practices. And SeaWorld is now owned by a public company, SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. (NYSE: SEAS). Previously owned by Anheuser-Busch, the company went public earlier this year. If people stop buying the stock, start asking mutual funds not to include it in their portfolios and insert the whales into every corporate conversation, it will wear on management and the investment community alike.
One viable solution will be to announce a plan to phase-out killer whale shows at SeaWorld. It might take a decade or more, but it would give SeaWorld a chance to develop new revenue streams and rebuild its shrinking credibility. No matter what: Rough seas ahead.
What do you think? Does SeaWorld have a right to do whatever it wants with its whales? Should the whales be freed? Is there a middle ground I’m not seeing?
author: John P. David