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.

Santa Gender Outrage? How Outrage is Used to Manipulate You

You may have heard about a survey that was done saying that 27% of people think that Santa should be “genderless,” and about a backlash to such an idea. Who knew that people were talking about Santa’s gender? As it turns out, no one knew. No one was actually talking about it.

This situation gives us an excellent example of outrage tactics and how certain triggering headlines can be used to manipulate audiences for various purposes.

Santa Gender article in the Mirror
Posted on the Daily Mirror’s Twitter, this topic drew many clicks.

Starting with Graphic Springs

When we track this Santa gender story back to its start, we find a company called Graphic Springs. They put out a survey to 1,000 people asking about how respondents would rebrand Santa if given the opportunity. It is not clear from their article if they suggested these changes and people voted yes or no or if they solicited suggestions.

While it is possible that the people of Graphic Springs were simply curious about how Santa could be rebranded, it is more likely that they had the more cynical motive of driving traffic to their web site where they sell low cost design and logo creation services.

An interesting piece of background of Graphic Springs, who is based in Nice, France, is that they have an F rating from the Better Business Bureau. The BBB has asked them to stop offering a money back guarantee without clear conditions of who gets their money back.

This all starts with a company trying to get some attention by leveraging a surprising idea about a popular character: Santa Claus. Commercializing Santa is not a cynical as it may sound, since our perception of Santa is based almost entirely on Coca-Cola’s depiction of the jolly old fellow in the first place.

Outrage Tactics Move Forward

Graphic Springs’ article about the Santa gender survey was picked up by Channel 6 in Philadelphia. From there, the Mirror picked it up. Then Breitbart got a hold of it.

In each iteration, the language in the reporting becomes a bit more suggestive of controversy.

Channel 6 says, “Survey: Some say Santa should be rebranded female, gender neutral.”

The Mirror then says, “People say Santa should now be female or gender neutral – sparking debate.”

While the first makes it clear that people were speaking in response to a survey, the Mirror makes it sound like people are saying this out of the blue. One could even interpret it to mean that there is some kind of movement or event organization behind such an effort.

A web site called Town Hall did not mess around at all with their title.

Santa Gender on Townhall. Are you people on Crack?
Townhall.com is pretty clear on their opinion on this one.

26% becomes “almost 30%,” and the outrage beings.

No more mention of a survey in the headline, and the opinionated article as much as says, “you can have my fat, bearded Santa when you pry him from my cold, dead, candy-cane-striped fingers.”

Santa Gender Outrage Objective

Of course, this makes great click bait which brings big bucks into those who are receiving the clicks. Might there be other motivations for such inflammatory language?

There is a powerful political motivation as well. There is an existing belief among some conservatives that there is some movement on the Left to disassemble the basic fabric of our society: disrupting the family, reconstituting gender, and changing all the rules as we know them. To those who hold this belief, this is terrifying. They feel that those who are behind it must be stopped.

Some politicians and political movements benefit greatly from the support of such terrified individuals. They can rally their support with examples of new offensives by the “disruptive forces” whom they fear so much.

This is one such example. “First, it was that bathrooms. Now it is Santa Claus himself!” They convince people that there are forces that want to give Santa gender reassignment surgery or even neuter him! Reasonable human rights issues of transgender rights become conflated with absurd issues of regendering Santa Clause.

A pretty viscerally terrifying concept to some.

What’s the goal? What is this trying to achieve?

When the union man who’s union interests have been protected by Democrats votes for a Republican advocating Right-to-Work laws because he thinks the Republican will protect Santa Claus, you see what the goal is. You also see how well it works.

Both Sides Do It

Both the Left and the Right engage in such outrage tactics. Also, both Left and Right decry it when then other side does it, while claiming that they never do it.

Both sides definitely do it. It may be called different things. It may take different forms, but if you look for it, you’ll see it everywhere.

No, no one is going to rebrand Santa Claus. He won’t lose his beard or be neutered any time soon. This is just another occasion to rile people up, make money through clicks, and bring attention to a previously unknown logo design company.

You got played, and a lot of people made money from it.

Next time you see something so outrageous that you can’t believe it, take a minute to consider if you really should believe it.

Are you or your organization facing outrage tactics or other threats to your reputation? We can help. Contact us.

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