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Beware The Dark Side Of Social-Media Moon

Social media, such as Twitter, can be a force for positive change, but if misused, like it was to falsely target Conservative MPs for not supporting an apology to the LGBTQ community, can have devastating results.

Social media is an empowering tool, and one that has breathed new oxygen into our political process. It allows people to organize, to question and to rally. It has enhanced our democracy and changed it for the better.

Movements like #metoo, which has broken the silence surrounding sexual harassment and assault, have found their power in social media. The quickness, reactivity and openness of social media has meant that men of power who have been abusers no longer control the dialogue.

Those in power don’t have power over social media forums. Those who once had little ability to reach the masses can now do so with no fear of being clamped down on or controlled by those in power.

It is safe to say that without Twitter, there would still be a cone of silence around issues such as sexual harassment and assault.

Twitter has been used to shine a light on dozens of other issues. It has helped protestors organize. And it has helped dethrone despots.

Safe to say, social media has changed our world for the better.

And yet, there is a dark side of the moon.

The immediacy, reactive nature and openness of social media can cause grave damage, as well. Just as we have seen it used as a formidable tool to topple the powerful, the use of social media can ignite a fire that quickly burns out of control. The lack of control embedded in the use of social media means it can be weaponized against innocent people.

Take, for instance, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent apology to the LGBTQ community on behalf of the Government of Canada for historical unfair treatment. It was a moving moment, and one that found cross-partisan support. Canadians across the country took to social media to express their happiness about the decision.

But something not so celebratory occurred. A tweet by a member of the press gallery stated that a section of seats among the Conservative party ranks were empty, with no context. Others soon took photos and circled the “missing members,” highlighting their names and user names. Tweets in response ominously accused the members of a concerted Conservative walkout to protest the apology.

The social-media outcry was swift and harsh. The “missing members” were decried as homophobic, bigoted and insulting. Thousands of tweets harassed the members for their insensitivity and critiqued the Conservative Party for not having emerged from the Dark Ages.

The problem was, it wasn’t accurate. A number of the “missing members” were, in fact, present and had simply moved to other seats. Others were at already scheduled events in their ridings or at scheduled personal commitments.

In fact, there was no credible evidence of a Conservative member boycotting the announcement.

But within 12 hours, many Tories faced on onslaught of personal criticism on Twitter by users who had not checked their facts. Those Twitter users gleefully besmirched a happy moment and the personal reputation of roughly a dozen Conservative MPs, entirely erroneously.

In fact, the misinformation continues to circulate two weeks later.

Talk about fake news.

The rush to judgment followed by an immediate backpedal was not an isolated occurrence.

It represents a situation that has occurred hundreds of times over social media in the past several years. Unfortunately, it’s a lesson that has not yet been learned.

We live in an era that thrives on immediacy, and the rush to produce content has hampered the importance of getting the facts right. It is a problem that we have constructed ourselves and one that we must fix.

The problem is that the apologies are never louder than the accusations. Headlines that blare of wrongdoing get infinitely more attention than the sheepish tweets admitting wrongful accusation.

There isn’t a simple fix to this problem. No legislation or Twitter policies or policing will change this.

It often seems innocuous to press the key that broadcasts information to our entire network. It’s easy and instantaneous and requires little thought.

But that action can have devastating effects. And so the change must begin with us.

We must learn to reread and rethink before we retweet.

Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist.

Bad Issues Management?

 

Sally Housser joins the Strategy Session panelists to discuss the CRA’s review of diabetics who lost the disability tax credit, as well as the finance ministers’ meeting in Ottawa. The panel also grades Jagmeet Singh’s first few months on the job.

Aired on CTV News on December 8, 2017

Government Scandals and the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem

On this episode of Political Traction, David sits down with Navigator’s Randi Rahamim and Jonathan Lowenstein to discuss the recent allegations against Minister of Disabilities and Sport Kent Hehr, and Minister of National Revenue Diane Lebouthillier, as well as President Donald Trump’s announcement that the U.S. Embassy in Israel will be relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

 

Views expressed do not necessarily represent those of Navigator or its affiliates.

What A Coup D’Etat Can Teach Us About Effective Communications

On November 14, 2017, Robert Mugabe’s iron-fist rule over Zimbabwe came to an abrupt end. In just a matter of hours, the country’s military placed the 93-year-old ruler and his wife under house arrest, and quickly declared his days as president over.

While Africa is no stranger to power-struggles and coups, what happened in Zimbabwe is rather peculiar in the fact that no one—not even the international press—knew exactly what was going on. This was not because information was not getting out. Actually, it was quite the opposite.

The country’s military put forward a communications strategy that controlled the narrative and helped drive support internally and externally for their actions. While it’s safe to say that Mugabe’s ousting garnered very little sympathy, the international community typically frowns upon non-democratic coups. But in this case, the world seemed okay with this development.

While the situation in Zimbabwe bears all the hallmarks of a coup, the military did a very good job of convincing the international press to report it otherwise. In any time of crisis, the first priority is to take control of your message and start shaping the narrative.

Zimbabwe’s military commanders knew this, and they quickly took control of the national broadcaster. While this is common practice in most government takeovers (there have been 300 or so over the past 50 years in Africa), it was what the military said on national television that raised eyebrows:

 

“We wish to assure the nation that his excellency the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe and commander-in-chief of Zimbabwe defence forces comrade R.G. Mugabe and his family are safe and sound and their security is guaranteed. We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country, in order to bring them to justice. As soon as we have accomplished our mission, we expect that the situation will return to normalcy.”  – Major General SB Moyo

 

Military spokesman Major General SB Moyo took to the airways and declared his men had carried out “a bloodless correction of gross abuse of power” and that the country would return to genuine democracy as a “modern model nation.” He went on to say “to both our people and the world beyond our borders, we wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover of government.”

General Moyo’s statement is a perfect example that despite all evidence pointing towards a coup, sticking to your key talking points, no matter how much the evidence says otherwise, helps to shape the conversation. He managed to cause enough confusion that the African Union condemned the events as “what seems like a coup” and the international media had no idea what to call it. While some networks labeled the events as a ‘coup’, many others refrained from using that terminology altogether.

So what happened? By announcing the military was going after corrupt criminals and not Robert Mugabe himself, the army effectively positioned itself, not as power-hungry thugs, but as civilian partners ending the rule of a man who bankrupted a country with unemployment rates north of 95%.

By promising to restore civilian rule as quickly as possible, the military painted itself as a sort of caretaker-government. Whether military leaders are telling the truth, or just playing kingmaker by installing another iron-fist leader, so far their communications strategy has been paying off: the vast majority of Zimbabweans are celebrating their swift actions.

In the world of communications, persuasion campaigns take time to effectively shift public opinion. Recognizing that Mugabe still had small legions of supporters out there, the military decided to trot the world’s oldest leader out from house arrest to preside over a university ceremony in the nation’s capital. In what was Mugabe’s first public appearance since the alleged coup, the frail 93-year old delivered a rambling, incoherent speech, then promptly fell asleep on stage in front of hundreds of people.

Pictures of him asleep at the job, so to speak, were quickly broadcast across the country, driving home the military’s message that Mugabe must go. A convenient PR-boost for a coup that is not a coup, by allowing Mugabe himself to show his country he is incapable of leading. As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and no amount of military-propaganda could have a better impact than this.

While scholars will debate whether or not the events in Zimbabwe are actually a coup or not, the military did an expert job of amassing support on its side, including those who are quick to dismiss any form of political change through the barrel of a gun. If things couldn’t be any more complicated, Mugabe’s former Vice President, who was sacked just days before the military moved in, has just been sworn into power.

But as history has shown, coups, (or “bloodless corrections” in this case) are often popular immediately after they happen, especially when the end result is the fall of a tyrant like Mugabe. However, even popular coups elicit negative responses from the international community.  Perhaps this military’s communications strategy kept the international community at bay, preventing it from making rash decisions that could have caused the situation to spiral out of control. In the end, this strategy bought the military—and Zimbabwe—time, which is crucial when a government that has been in power as long as the country has existed comes to an abrupt end. For the sake of Zimbabweans, let’s hope positive change is in store in the post-Mugabe era.