Monday, July 07, 2014

Damage Prevention: Magalluf and social media

Who would have thought it? Gentlemanly, former England cricket captain Andrew Strauss caught using the c-word to describe Kevin Pietersen. Strauss felt the need to issue an immediate and unreserved apology, though maybe he had nothing to apologise for. He thought he was off air. His mistake was in not knowing that there was a broadcast feed via a Fox Sports app in Australia.

Little that is nowadays said or done is not subject to being brought to the public's attention. Society, in whatever form, has become its own broadcaster. In this multi-connected, networked, voyeuristic world, there can be no room for naïvité. Strauss's bigger mistake was that he was naïve.

Such is the potential for embarrassment that media management should be shifting its emphasis. This management should be about anticipation, about damage prevention, rather than reaction and damage limitation. Nowadays, a media "crisis" can arise frequently and at random; the Murphy's Law for the technological world - what can go wrong will go wrong and will be on everyone's phone. It is naïve to believe that all damage can be prevented, but the need now is to at least try to prevent it. And accepting that it is impossible to prevent all damage, then mechanisms need to be in place to ensure adequate, appropriate and swift responses. Strauss's response was all three. He now surely understands what networked society means.

Amidst all the debate and arguments about the Magalluf video, there is one very important point which stands out. Peter Newey on the Facebook page of "The Bulletin" made it very well: "the only thing that is new is the technology that enables people to video such goings-on and then send them out to watch on their phones". Absolutely. Otherwise, and as many other commentators have observed, there was nothing new. Such goings-on have been going on for years. It's just that they didn't end up on What's App. But now that one has, there are others, and there will doubtless be more. Like happy-slappy copycatism bred filmed-on-phone beatings, there will be happy slappers applying further blows to a reputation that can barely go much lower.

The surprise about the Magalluf video is that there should be any surprise that one of that variety has found its way into the public domain. Technology being as it is, goings-on of this sort having been as common for so many years as they have, it was all but inevitable that one day the public would know and would be able to join in with the voyeurism. So inevitable that it might have been predicted.

You cannot plan for every eventuality. It is ridiculous to suggest that you can. But there are means of damage prevention, when you know all too well the potential sources of damage: the sources that have been goings-on for years and about which nothing has been done. Blame the bar-crawl organisers all that you will, but they are merely the product of historical inaction, of a failure to prevent damage. This failure has finally caught up with Magalluf. Technology has exposed the failure to prevent the damage; its Carnage, if you like. This technology will not go away. If more damage is not to be caused, then the sources of technology's appetite for recording, filming and broadcasting have to be made to go away.

The responses from officialdom to the video, those of outrage and of investigations, will include no admissions of failings, both past and present, no apologies for the abrogations of responsibility by different bodies; the town hall is by no means the only one. Yet, the warning signs were so clearly there. From the broadcast media to informal social media there has been a short but predictable step, one that is more graphic and salacious than the established media, but one that has pandered to the prurient appetite of this media and also of the internet user. When the BBC's Stacey Dooley documentary featured a similar scene, among its various other negative images, the reaction was to condemn the BBC. Even someone like Pepe Tirado of Acotur, a critic of so much that is wrong in Magalluf, leapt to the defence of Magalluf and echoed the condemnation. It may have been Magalluf, but it was our Magalluf, our Mallorcan Magalluf. No one else's. And certainly not one for a foreign broadcaster to be poking its nose into.

But of course it isn't a Mallorcan Magalluf. It is everyone's. And technology makes it so. There may have been some naïvité surrounding the BBC documentary, but there is absolutely no place for naïvité in networked society; social media can wreak havoc, can cause carnage.

The damage is done, but more damage has to now be prevented, and its sources - all of them - eliminated. 

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