Bring on the Overreactions

We need more boy who cried wolf stories online and people remembering them.

The recent Easter holiday flareup online about Amazon removing gay and lesbian books was an interesting study on the way people react to things online and the way people react to reactions online. We also saw how one of the largest online companies in the world didn’t react at all. In a world where news spreads through twitter in minutes to the 6 million+ people on it, Amazon took days to react to this situation and naturally the hype got worse as each hour went on.

Fiery Sunset 3
Photo owned by frobo512 (cc)

People started moaning about the fact that reactions are instant online and rumours spread at the speed of light. Really?! About how this is why bloggers and journalists are different and journalists are better than bloggers for this. Kind of like the real world so. Though I’ve found with journalists and bloggers that journalists get more wrong about me when they write about me than bloggers.

People complained there was no restraint and nobody waited to check all the facts.
Kind of like the real world so except people were trying to contact Amazon and find out what was happening and were getting mixed messages. People in the offline world don’t generally ring the press office of Fianna Fail if their friend tells them some news about Brian Cowen do they?

In a world of instant communications everything is going to be you know, instant. The complaints that “people should know better” are a bit rich when the same trend offline happens online. Do people demand restraint in a neighbourhood and community when news spreads?

What was interesting with the Amazon case was that a percentage of the online community were not instantly sold on the idea that there was some conspiracy going on or the reclassifying of Gay and Lesbian books was a new policy. The filtering was real, anyone doing a search saw this. The reasons behind it were unclear even when someone emailed/rang amazon to ask what was happening. Taken to extremes the ever bitchy and wrong Owen Thomas (not deserving of a link) said it was a hacker that did this and he condemned people jumping on bandwagons when in fact this was proven untrue and it was Amazon that did the filtering.

A few days later and Amazon still are not being clear on this and are refusing to explain exactly what happened, perhaps because they don’t fully understand what happened themselves. Maybe they should have said this. This saga was a massive PR fail by Amazon which is a shame because they understand the Internet more than most companies.

If you look at it from one angle, there needs to be more of these over-the-top reactions to train the online population in the fact that everything needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. There’s almost that threshold where enough members of this online community are trained enough from previous wildfires to know the score. We’re not getting there as some might want because there is no there to get to, but some in the exploding online communities are starting to play the long game as they become more experienced in the way news is spread, just like the villagers of yesteryear got there in the end as did the press.

California Air National Guard
Photo owned by The National Guard (cc)

Remember the Titantic story? All Saved it said on the newspapers, followed a day later by the opposite. Hunches and gut feelings will take time to learn or bubble up but they will.

It looks like bloggers will now ring the press number of an organisation to get some facts, they’ll email contact emails and ask for verification but it is also up to the organisations out there to be monitoring what the web is saying about them and react to it. Unless you’re a very small company, you’re going to be 7 days a week and 24 hours a day. The monitoring tools are cheap or even free for this kind of thing. There’s no real excuse anymore.

Of course you could ignore the online people, there’s only like 1.5Million of them in Ireland or thereabouts.

9 Responses to “Bring on the Overreactions”

  1. Justin Mason says:

    I have to say this was a pretty brutal case of “mob justice”. To my eyes it was pretty clear this was a fuck-up on Amazon’s back-end somewhere, which is why I didn’t join in the hype of the #amazonfail hash-tag.

    Having said that, yep, Amazon’s PR infrastructure failed massively to deal with it….

  2. Kieran says:

    Well written, Damien! I think that instead of blaming bloggers and the online community, more companies (and politicians) should embrace the changes. While it’s true that there could be false rumours flying about, that happened before new media as well. At least now companies have a chance to deal with problems/rumours much quicker, with a wider reach, putting out fires before they really flare up. When they don’t bother, one is really left with the impression that they don’t care.

    I also think people (and let’s not forget that the online world is made up of them) are generally sound and don’t expect perfection but companies (and politicians) think they have to be perfect when it comes to PR. Big mistake. “I don’t know how this happened, and it will take a while to find out. Bottom line is that we messed up! We apologise to all involved, and we will rectify the situation as quickly as possible…” is a pefectly sound answer in my book, and if it comes quickly enough could put an end to it.

    Good point also about the integrity of bloggers. I’ve also found it true in most cases.

  3. EoinK says:

    Some newspapers are less reliable, some bloggers are, some media outlets react quickly, some twitters react quicker. I don’t think you can pigeonhole either group. TV is no more reliable because it is older than blogging just as blogging is no more reliable.

    The speed at which information travels does depend on the network and perceived importance of the information. Until companies(and politicians etc) wise up to the uses of the new media they will be behind on so many things not just the reaction to new information. Im just suprised that is was and internet based and relativity savy company – perhaps it was simply that no one was in over the weekend!


  4. Fiona says:

    Erm, some journalists are bloggers. You know, just because it’s not always helpful to pit them against each other, and create two opposing categories. That is all.

  5. Frank P says:

    Some great points there about the web based mob mentality, but I would quibble with this point:

    A few days later and Amazon still are not being clear on this and are refusing to explain exactly what happened, perhaps because they don’t fully understand what happened themselves. Maybe they should have said this. This saga was a massive PR fail by Amazon which is a shame because they understand the Internet more than most companies.

    Perhaps you’re right. But I would say that this is only a “massive PPR fail” by Amazon if Amazon see a dip in their sales as a result. Otherwise, who’s to say they haven’t taken the correct course of action by not wasting resources trying to firefight inevitable overreactions in the online community.

  6. Steve Rawson says:

    It is ironic that a company that was one of the original online trailblazers decided to stay schtum or were somehow blindsided on this one. Overeaction or no – isn’t it all about monitoring and putting out bushfires quickly.

  7. CiaránMac says:

    Good reminder Fiona. It’s a good point, but after reading negative comments about bloggers by John Waters in the Irish Times recently (during Picturegate) and Kevin Macdonald interviewed in the Sunday Times (plugging State Of Play) I’m left with the thought that someone should remind them also.

  8. John says:

    I would like to purchase a link on your website. Hwo much would that cost.


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