Viral Vulgarity: Our New Normal #PR #SocialMedia

Apr 20 2017

It has been a few weeks since we all watched a man be assaulted and dragged off of a United Airlines airplane. This week, we have seen a Facebook Live murder of an innocent elderly man–clearly a terror attack caught on video and posted for the world to see. And here, in my hometown of Memphis, TN, a recording of a racist rant (taken in Turks & Caicos) has gone viral putting Memphis–once again–in the race crosshairs of global media. Unreal.

As I have watched these events unfold, I cannot help but have this nagging feeling in my gut that says, “what is going on?”  What used to seem like normal “scandals” (love affairs, theft, etc) are being replaced with horrendous acts of violence and assault on others. Be it verbal or physical, the bar is raising for the level of vulgarity we all see online and in the news. Is this acceptable? Does a civilized country or community (or industry) sit back and dismiss it as the new normal? I hope not.

My career in public relations (mostly corporate) has taught me a lot about people and how the media actually works. I have been in the middle of some really turbulent storms and worked side by side with some of the best in the business. Crisis PR is not for the faint of heart or inexperienced newbie. It is some of the hardest work there is and often you are “damned if you do” and “damned if you don’t.” So in today’s new world of global PR–served up with a heaping dose of viral, social media platforms–we are seeing a new level of vulgarity. We are seeing it because there are cameras and recorders all around us. And I cannot help but wonder this: Are we getting worse and allowing (accepting) more bad things in our world, or do we just see more of it? Gone are the days when something bad happened, but nobody had to witness it and often times, it went unreported.

I am glad I am not just beginning in a career of PR or media. I am grateful for my 30 years of being in the trenches working and learning. That experience cannot be replaced or manufactured. Every crisis endured teaches you more and you apply it to the next one. I can spot a crisis brewing like a my German Shepard can spot a four-legged trespasser in our yard. Experience is the best teacher and there is no substitute.

As I reflect on the past week and each “crisis of the day,” I think we have crossed into a new era of accepting vulgarity and passing it around like snacks on a tray. It’s wrong. It needs to stop. We need to go back to teaching our kids how to be civil to others if not kind. We need to teach our college kids this as well. People need to feel bad when they do bad. It’s not acceptable to beat another human being–verbally or physically. It’s not acceptable to assault innocent people for having differing views. Enough is enough. If we don’t return to being civil and kind to one another–especially when we disagree–what type of society are we becoming? What type of culture is brewing at United Airlines for it to get to the point where an innocent passenger is assaulted, knocked unconscious and dragged off a plane? What type of CEO would initially try and reject any wrongdoing?

The PR lesson here is this: If you do something wrong (and maybe we should even go back to defining the difference between right and wrong) you will be caught. There is more than a good chance you will even be recorded and taped. You will land on You-Tube with thousands or millions of views and your heat-of-the-moment vulgarity will be on display for the world to see. There are lots of different ways to handle it, spin it, deflect it, etc. but deep down, there is really only one way.

I have always told my employees and my children that it’s not always what happens to you but more importantly how you handle it. Vulgarity is for the uncivilized. We need to get back to understanding of doing the right thing(s) and better PR will follow.