veronica hendrix

Veronica Hendrix

*Social media is becoming far less social these days. It’s not a casual, happy place for idle, unbridled chit chat, or otherwise. Alias, those days were short lived and are now gone up in smoke.

Today it’s dicey terrain.  Treacherous territory. And it takes no prisoners.

Proceed with caution should be the disclaimer water marked all over it in neon letters.

The reality and the problem is it this truth runs omnipresent much like a computer program in the background of our minds. It only comes to the foreground when hell breaks it loose.

A cacophony of recent events has done just that. These events, though some most unfortunate, have served to underscore the power, praise, punch and punition of social media. It has been, no less, a bumpy and nasty ride. It has bought its victims to their preverbal knees and it is certainly causing a lot of people, organizations and entities to rethink how they engage it.

Who would have thought that the outrage expressed in social media could be responsible for causing Bank of America to rescind their debit card fees; Netflix deciding not to implement a price increase; how about  reversing Susan G Komen’s  decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood thereby causing a number of Komen board members to resign; or causing CNN to suspend  commentator Roland Martin for posting tweets that offended the gay and lesbian community;  in Los Angeles Radio Station KFI suspended John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou for making irreverent  remarks that travelled every pillar and post on the internet about the late Whitney Houston; and the latest social media takedown resulted in ESPN firing an employee and suspending an anchor after outrage about their online and broadcast comments about Asian-American Knicks basketball player Jeremy Lin  that were deemed offensive and inappropriate.

This is just a short list of the most recent examples of the power of social media. There are countless more and trust me, this is just the beginning. More examples – some clear cut some decidedly obtuse – will emerge as social media comes of age and evolves into a quantifiable player.

The world has shifted on its axis when as social media can steer its course and drive discourse.  Social media weighs in with the first word and subsequently gets the last word on any array of issues, subjects and topics – at will. When it speaks, people turn an ear and listen.

Social media has bred the twins of consternation and trepidation. And it has triggered countless knee jerk as well as decisive reactions as demonstrated by some of the recent stories in the media because its impact is so swift and immediate because it so clamorous.

The outcry of an audience is powerful when they engage social media to express their opinions and discontent. As a galvanizing tool and strategy, there is none better. When CNN contributor Roland Martin tweeted his ill-fated words about  H&M’s Super Bowl commercial featuring soccer player David Beckham to his 100,000 followers, he saw its exponential power of 1 and we did too. It touched off a social media on-line petition calling for his head gathering more than 7,500 signatures in mano moments. CNN simply couldn’t turn a blind eye or deaf ear to that – so they didn’t.

The comments that proliferate around a controversial issue in social media don’t always represent the viewpoint and opinion of all people. On the contrary, what is deemed offensive or unacceptable to one person or group many not be deemed the same to another. But it’s the social pressure of social media that has empowered a new era of cyber activism and strong-arming hat has not been seen or witnessed before.

Passages in a recent blog post in Emergency Management Magazine about the evolving role of social media said it best:

“There are also the kinds of swarms that can form when an organization’s most influential fans and followers on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking platforms start feeling that the organizations they support are ignoring them — or betraying their trust by doing something controversial without their input or prior knowledge. Social networks can help quickly galvanize public opinion against, or in some cases, for, any organization. Simply put, that perception takes shape literally minutes after a crisis erupts or an incident occurs.”

At the end of the day, it’s all about the bottom line. That’s the grip social media has seized and squeezed. When the nameless, faceless public puts finger tips to keyboards or touch screens en masse and in a flurry, companies monetize that and have they have indeed felt the effects of  that cyber dissent in the pocket book. Just ask Netflix and Bank of America who lost customers and market share when their customers balked.
I am not sure where all this will lead. But censorship and caution will be the road most travelled for those riding up and down this emerald superhighway. If they don’t, they will crash and burn. And even if they do, they will still probably cash and burn anyway, as public opinion in social media plays an increasing role in pressing nerve centers giving more and more credence to the power of the post.

Strap in is all I can say.

Veronica Hendrix is a syndicated columnist and feature writer whose work has covered the span of the human continuum – from clinical trials of male contraceptives, to the gang violence. She is the owner of Bromont Avenue Foods. She is the author of “Red Velvet Gourmet Spice Rub and Seasoning Heart Healthy Recipes.” Visit http://bromontavefoods.com for more information.  For comments, interviews, speaking engagements or moderator requests please send an email to [email protected].