Sat | Dec 14, 2019

Mark Wignall | When social media goes off the rails

Published:Thursday | November 14, 2019 | 12:16 AM

As the Internet exploded exponentially in the late 1990s so did social media in the next decade and beyond. As soon as its marketing potential to build brands and to solidify well-earned reputations was recognized and utilized, so did the downside rear it ugly head.

Digital media has become common place and social media accounts have been taken up by almost everyone. From Facebook, to Twitter, to WhatsApp to Instagram and Snapchat, Jamaicans are right up there with the behaviour of developed societies when it comes to social media.

Social media is used quite frequently by businesses, events and entrepreneurs, to promote all aspects of their business. Social media has revolutionized the way people communicate and socialize on the web.

But, as I said it has a dark side. Cyber bullying, loss of privacy and fake news have become more prevalent. Recent utterances by Proven’s Chris Williams re ‘Lattes for the middle class’ attracted backlash, just as a Lasco social media post about champion athlete, Omar McLeod, tried to negatively drag him down a few years ago when he was at the very top of his profession. Then Lascelles Chin of LASCO stepped up immediately and booted the employee who posted the rubbish.

Preaching and dancing policemen, as well as a gun-toting security guard, have all received significant negative exposure on social media.

The US Navy Hospital Ship also took a hard hit, when a member of the public decided to create a social media video ‘informing’ people that the ship was in Jamaica to, as she said ‘kill off black people’. Then later there was a fake video being pushed of a ship on fire by the docks. It was said that Jamaicans had set the hospital ship afire.

Products have also taken a hit. Magnum Tonic Wine was hit with a fake viral video re fake Magnum that infiltrated thousands of devices across the region. Similarly, children’s drink brand, Kool Kidz, recently rebranded its product line and reduced its sugar content, in an effort to make the product healthier for its young consumers. Though the changes were made for the right reasons, consumers began to boycott the product, saying it’s fake and should not be bought.

Why would we need to involve our children, already under all sorts of social media pressures in this fakery? What was the motive?

Additionally, warnings have been made through various WhatsApp groups to schools and the youth, to purchase alternate juice options. These disingenuous utterances have had a tremendous negative impact resulting in loss of business and a hard hit to reputations across the board.

company reputation

Losing a customer due to poor customer service pales in comparison to a viral video or social media post that can possibly reach hundreds of thousands of persons. It has the potential to rack up millions of dollars in losses for businesses and damage to personal or company reputation that may be irreversible.

From last week to now just about every other person with a half decent smart phone was showing two viral WhatsApp posts about two Jamaican politicians. Many people I spoke with were torn between being perplexed and the usual, if-it-nuh-go-so-it-it-near-go-so. This is very dangerous use of social media.

A recent piece from Reuters said, “Dozens of people in India have been detained on suspicion of publishing inflammatory social media posts…” after a Supreme Court ruling.

Here in Jamaica, we have the freedom to build up and to tear down through social media but where is the responsibility? One of the dangers I am sensing is that many of our people are increasingly seeing these abuses of social media purely as empowerment.