Social Media: Sense and Sensitivity

When category five storm Hurricane Dorian ravaged the Bahamas at the beginning of September, causing catastrophic levels of destruction to both life and livelihood, social media users came under fire for their response to the incident.

Is this a message to us all, warning of the uses – and misuses – of social media?

With some 13,000 houses damaged or destroyed, at least 50 people confirmed dead and 1,300 more missing, Hurricane Dorian is the second strongest Atlantic hurricane on record.

Pictures emerged showing the sheer level of destruction, with horrified families seeking refuge from the rising waters on the roofs of houses.

Amidst the chaos, Instagram users took to their accounts to post bikini-clad pictures of themselves on holiday in the Bahamas sporting the hashtag #PrayForTheBahamas.

It was a supposedly heartfelt bid to pay their respects to those impacted by the storm, but they’ve been dubbed tone deaf, causing considerable insult to the people affected by the disaster.

The posts caused outrage among other social media users, who called out the insensitive nature of their inappropriate images given the circumstances.

So, what can we learn from the latest faux pas in the social media world?

Social media has become a monumental and powerful communications tool, so when posting – whether personally or professionally – you should consider the wider socioeconomic and political scope of the content you share.

These days everything is immediate. People can easily post on social channels without properly thinking through the consequences of their actions. We must remember: the content we share online forms our own reputation – whether intentional or not.

The key is context and it’s important to keep your finger on the pulse when it comes to local, national and global news.

Keeping up to date and doing all that you can to stay ahead of the news will keep you aware of your impact when publishing content online. This cannot stop you from making a mistake but it can equip you with the knowledge you need to tread carefully around sensitive issues such as natural disasters.

Agencies, businesses and individuals must factor in all groups of people when posting anything online, as their material must be respectful and inclusive not only to protect their reputation but also to be mindful of the people they are reaching.

Embedded in the work of PR agencies is the scheduling of social media posts and content. The ability to write and publish content to go out at a later date is a useful tool if you want to stay ahead of schedule, and it helps us to organise our online content.

However, using the example of the storm in the Bahamas, we must be mindful of the content we schedule as well as what we publish live; ensuring that scheduled posts are checked, and double checked – both on the day they are published and the day they are written – is vital.

Taking this approach enables us to ensure the message we are putting out for clients is still appropriate. Maintaining a steady grasp on relevant news items and being vigilant in the area of discourse mitigates the potential to be confused or misinterpreted in any way when it’s published.

#PrayForTheBahamas shows that extra consideration must be taken when it comes to content regarding sensitive topics such as the loss of life; unfortunately, in this case, self-promotion in the context of destruction doesn’t properly respect the seriousness of the topic.

As a PR agency, being conscious of the impact we have in our work is pivotal to the content that we create and distribute.

Ultimately, taking a step back to consider the wider impact of your post can make the difference between engaging with or alienating a community or group.