Opinion | Reputation Risk Is Like Kindling; Social Media’s the Flame

By: | May 16, 2019

Joanna Makomaski is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques. She can be reached at [email protected]

A journalist with a local news magazine received an email from a “John Doe.” This John Doe letter was distasteful, sexist, racist and referenced his place of employment, a prominent retail store.

Keen to punish her perceived nemesis, the journalist posted the email on her Twitter account tagging the store. The journalist introduced the email message by scolding the employee and the store he worked for.

What happened next on Twitter mimicked that of a frenzied mob. Condemnations, accusations and vile comments from followers. Pitchforks were raised. Torches were lit.

Twitter followers posted “John Doe” photos stolen from various public social media accounts. The online mob claimed they found him and placed a bullseye on his head.

While the feeding frenzy for a bloodied “John Doe” head continued, the store investigated. They spoke to their John Doe. The email was proven fake. Store security determined its illegitimacy and contacted the police. The store stood behind the employee and responded to the journalist accordingly.

When the journalist realized she was duped, she could have just apologized for her premature unverified posting. But instead, she kept up the nasty fight.

This brought my blood to a boiling point. A journalist using her personal Twitter account for work purposes? Is it now okay to use vulgar language after wrongly disparaging an innocent man and his employer with no proof? Is this not a total violation of basic journalistic principles and ethics?

How do I know all this? I know the real John Doe. It’s a shame the journalist didn’t take the time to get to know him too.

Is it now okay to use vulgar language after wrongly disparaging an innocent man and his employer with no proof? Is this not a total violation of basic journalistic principles and ethics?

But real damage was done. Moreover, the journalist failed to reflect on her social and moral responsibilities.

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This story is just one example of the roaring reputational risk we all face in this era of super-heated social media.

All this insanity may have derived from a small local media outlet, but these outlets matter greatly. They cannot get dismissed as “rags” because of sloppy work and questionable journalistic integrity. Local magazines and papers conduct a vital service. They are the watchdogs of our communities.

National mainstream media outlets face enough antagonism from those who are mercilessly trying to sell new realities with “alternative facts.” Press independence and free expression are persistently being challenged. Journalistic integrity and credibility are essential if they are to remain my trusted news sources.

Journalism should be a team sport. All journalists — without exception — must strive to maintain the highest standards of editorial conduct in spite of all these challenges. It must happen or you will lose my trust and the trust of, quite possibly, generations.

That’s true now more than ever, when reputational risk inflamed by social media has rocketed to the top of many businesses’ most feared risks. &

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]