Taylor Harriman: Public Shaming As Marketing

Taylor Harriman thought it would be funny to make fun of being a seat hog.
The thoughtless Tweet that started it all.

The Internet doesn’t forget and doesn’t think you’re funny

The Tweet above by Taylor Harriman has been deleted, as has the profile that created it, but the Internet never forgets, and they don’t find her humor particularly funny.

From the structure of the Tweet, I would conclude that this is one of those things where she thought it was funny at the moment and wanted to share. Whether she is actually a selfish person or simply thought that this was funny is impossible to tell from just this Tweet.

The San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit Authority, better known as BART, however, thought that it would be an excellent illustration of what not to do.

Bay Area Rapid Transit takes advantage of the moment.
While the original Tweet was not there, the thread under it copied the original Tweet numerous times.

BART certainly has a challenge in trying to convince people not to use seats to carry their bags. One of BART’s objectives is to have enough capacity to carry all the people who want to get from here to there, especially at peak times. When one person takes up two seats, multiplied by all the people who might do this, you get diminished capacity.

Public Shaming as messaging

The people in charge of messaging at BART must have thought they had an early Christmas gift when Ms. Harriman tagged them in her poorly thought out Tweet.

Abstract concepts such as “don’t hog seats” are difficult to explain to people. On the other hand, “don’t be like that person” is a much easier message to send.

It is quite common for businesses and organizations to jump on the bandwagon once a controversy is up and running. However, it is less common for such an institution to actually start one.

From a messaging standpoint, BART has been very effective. I expect that over the next few days, San Francisco will see a lot less bags in seats, given the momentum that this has achieved.

Standard shaming playbook

There are certainly things that have become de rigueur when an individual transgresses the rules of Twitter propriety.

The individual’s background is plumbed for additional material to justify their monstrosity. 

Taylor Harriman expresses support for Trump
For a liberal audience, such as in San Francisco, her support of Donald Trump combined with her seat comment creates a “pattern.”

Now that the crowd has determined that she is a selfish seat hogger and also a Trump supporter, they can now brand her as a bad person, or even a non person. Trying to get a person fired for a dumb comment about a public transit seat would be way too much.

Getting a non person fired? Well, that seems reasonable.

Asking someone to carry this message to her employer.
Taylor Harriman job is targeted.
Wedgewood is the real estate company she works for.

Fortunately, for Ms. Harriman, this particular outrage appears to be local in scope. Her detractors are not targeting her vulnerabilities, and the controversy is achieving little traction. She could well ride it out until people get bored and move on.

It is, however, a chilling reminder that if you are on social media, any poorly thought out Tweet or post can get you into the crosshairs of the crowd, and the consequences can be catastrophic.

Best response

Under the current circumstances, Ms. Harriman’s reaction of laying low is probably the best course of action. This situation does not appear to be affecting her vulnerabilities, so anything more assertive runs the risk of reigniting the controversy.

Deleting the Tweet may have been a poor choice, because that tends to anger certain denizens of the Internet. There are people who are offended by the deletion of a post for whatever reason. Since everything is archived one way or another, it is difficult to truly delete a post, especially a Tweet. Because it was deleted, it was reposted by others at least half a dozen times.

If the blowback fire back up on its own, there are a few things that she might do. Of course, much of what would determine the best response would have to do with the precise details of the situation: who was fanning the flames, what are they saying, etc. This makes it difficult to give a detailed response plan to a hypothetical situation.

The first question would be whether this tweet is really reflective of her real attitudes or if it was just something that seemed funny at the moment but didn’t really reflect how she felt.

In the latter case, she would need to reframe the tweet as an awkward misstep rather than as a reflection of her true character. This might start with an apology explaining how she was sorry for her statement and emphasizing her belief that one should not be a seek hogging jerk.

On the other hand, if she had sincerely meant the tweet when she posted it, but has learned her lesson since, then that is what she should say. Honesty is always the best strategy. People want to know that she’s learned something. Americans like a story of redemption.

Her change would have to be sincere. If she was just saying what she thought people wanted to hear, it would eventually blow up in her face. No amount of fancy words can cover a corrupt heart. However, if the revelation was sincere, then it’s just a matter of sharing that sincere story. She would have to let people know what she’s learned and how she will change in the future.

After all, the whole point of the attack campaigns and trying to get her fired is to teach her a lesson. If she actually learns a lesson, then it seems excessive to keep punishing her.

On the other hand, if she just remained unrepentantly selfish, then she’d probably deserve whatever she got. Hopefully she’d learn from it.


Have you made a mistake that the Internet won’t let you forget? The Internet never forgets, but we can help you make your story your own again. Contact us.

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