Social Media as Judge, Jury and Executioner

This weekend a Radiohead drum tech lost his life in a tragic stage accident.  His name was Scott Johnson and I would first and foremost like to offer my sincere condolences to his family for this loss.

This accident sparked a lot of conversation and debate online in the Social Media space due to a couple of things which happened that maybe shouldn’t have.

Live Nation Ontario, the concert promoter, tweeted to inform people that the show had been cancelled.  Then, half an hour later, a scheduled tweet showed up, encouraging people to share their photos from the concert. That was when Twitter became a flurry of activity.  UnMarketing wrote a blog with all the details here.

Live Nation Ontario is being widely criticized on two fronts:

First, they scheduled a tweet and then someone forgot to edit the scheduled tweet after the accident took place. Once they realized what had happened, they deleted the tweet.  Then, Live Nation Ontario failed to address the error in sensitivity.

The second issue people were complaining about was how Radiohead expressed themselves on Twitter.  Someone died (at this point the public did not know who) and they tweeted “Due to unforeseen circumstances tonight’s at downsview park tonight has been cancelled. Fans are advised not to make their way to the venue.

Lisa Larter - RadioheadTweet

This was seen as insensitive because they failed to offer condolences on a life lost and many immediately complained about it on Twitter.

Seeing this, it struck me that, as a society, we might be expecting too much perfection from individuals who are trying to do the best they can. And, if you take the time to step back and analyze the whole picture, I think you just might agree.

While not an excuse for insensitive posts, Radiohead had only tweeted 87 times prior to this tragedy. I am actually a bit surprised that they Tweeted about it at all.

And while some may say, this was the official response from the band and you shouldn’t use Social Media if you aren’t going to use it “correctly” – I say “define correctly”. Everyone seems to have a different opinion on the definition of what is “correct” in Social Media. Personally, I believe that Tweeting about the death of someone in attendance at a concert (especially when it isn’t known who or how severely others are injured) could be seen as insensitive.

Live Nation Ontario was trying to be proactive and, in the face of tragedy, screwed up. There is no rule book that says, “when you schedule a tweet and there is an accident and someone dies, you must log into Hootesuite and remove all scheduled tweets.” Yes, it was unfortunate, but it was an oversight. I would hope that their minds were more concerned with what was actually happening and the well being of those in attendance rather than “what do we have in our scheduled Tweets?”

There is also no law that says scheduling tweets is a crime. I know that many in the industry think it’s bad business, but at times it just makes sense. And this is one of those situations. Live Nation handles thousands of events each year. It makes perfect sense that they would schedule some Tweets in anticipation of those events. I would go so far as to say it’s “good business”.

No one can see the future and you can’t plan every single aspect of your marketing around every possible scenario that could take place. No matter who you are, big or small, you can only do so much and you (or the person Tweeting for your company) are human.

Dealing with these types of situations is new to all of us. Public scrutiny and backlash in these situations can, unfortunately, create more fear around doing Social Media the “wrong way” rather than more openness to doing Social Media to begin with.

I had a great conversation on Twitter with Hendrik Pape about this and he was the one who said “Social media is judge, jury and executioner”. He also raised some very great points about companies owning up when they make a mistake, silence should never be an option.  He said “Even experienced hikers hire guides guides for unfamiliar territory, Social Media may be easy, but it has it’s risks too.”

While I completely agree with Hendrik,  I am not certain that all crimes deserve the same punishment. I think we need to cut people some slack.

The problem with social media is, every action or inaction is documented and readily available for criticism. Once the criticism starts it sort of feels like you are damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

We must all remember that situations like this are the exception not the norm.

What’s your take?






5 thoughts on “Social Media as Judge, Jury and Executioner”

  1. Lisa, this post brought tears to my eyes as I read it, because anytime we suggest “cutting others some slack”, we are on the right track!! It takes time to become expert at Social Media and as you said, there is no rulebook for every situation. We are all human, we will all make mistakes and rampant criticism is pointless and damaging – especially to those who are being the critics.

    1. Thanks Gile, I agree and I think when we criticize we always have to consider what the intent of the other person was. In this case, I fundamentally believe there was no ill intent on anyone’s part. Just a sad situation overall.

  2. Such a terrible and unfortunate incident and such a sad way to respond as an organization.

    I am totally of the mind when there is an issue that plays out publicly the objective is to Acknowledge – acknowledge the issue, the details, and address people’s questions head on. OWN the solution – take ownership of the solution. ADDRESS – Address the problem and put your solution into action and REPORT BACK to close the loop.

    This scenario brought to light a couple is very social business realities. 1) You can’t and should never try to sweep something under the rug publicly especially on social media and 2) social media isn’t a 9-5 job no matter WHAT kind of business you are in 3) integrity and compassion has every place in business contrary to popular belief.

    Live Nation had an opportunity to engage and support fans during their loss and even strengthen their relationship moving forward. They failed as a business.

    It doesn’t make the tragedy any less relevant though. A life was lost, Live Nations business fail is secondary.

    My Toonies worth


  3. Really glad you wrote this post, Lisa.

    My later understanding is that Radiohead has been deeply affected by this incident, both in terms of the loss of vintage equipment that is difficult to impossible to replace, and more importantly, in losing part of their team.

    Here’s a slightly later message the band sent out:

    “We have all been shattered by the loss of Scott Johnson, our friend and colleague. He was a lovely man, always positive, supportive and funny; a highly skilled and valued member of our great road crew. We will miss him very much. Our thoughts and love are with Scott’s family and all those close to him.”

    I’ve never been in a touring band. But I suspect that the loss of their drum tech is a big blow. I’m sure they’ll have someone else in his job. But these people work together, and closely. It is easy to jump to a snap judgement. We all need to ensure we don’t snap too far, and that if facts prove us wrong that we walk back.

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Lisa Larter Bio Image of Lisa x400

Lisa Larter

Founder and CEO of the Lisa Larter Group, master strategist, author, speaker, podcast host, social media expert, consultant, and business coach. Lisa inspires entrepreneurs and business owners to see the possibilities for their organizations when it comes to strategy. She uncomplicates modern marketing and creates (and implements) strategies for businesses that are guaranteed to increase visibility, inbound leads, and revenue.

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