The Anatomy of a Social Media “Riot”

By the time police arrived, Union Square was severely overcrowded. Within the park’s nine acres, thousands of young onlookers had gathered for what was supposed to be a gift giveaway hosted by Twitch-personality Kai Cenat. Drawn by the promise of free Play Stations and the chance to meet a social media celebrity, thousands of teenagers had traveled to the park. 

When the crowd, predominantly an audience of youthful teenage boys, clashed with police, things escalated quickly. In dozens of videos shared across YouTube and other social media platforms, police collar the young attendees. One video captures a police officer slamming a teenage boy through a taxi cab’s back window. By the end of the day, several people were seriously injured, 60+ people were arrested and Union Square Park sustained over $55,000 in property damage. Cenat, the influencer who had sparked the gathering with posts made on Twitch days before, was charged by police with “unlawful gathering” and “inciting a riot.”

As police investigate this incident further and Cenat faces a court date, it’s worth considering the broader context of social media relationships and the unpredictable power of influencers to catalyze mass action in physical reality. In an age defined by Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and dozens of other social networks, what role do social media personalities have in driving people to action? What can happen when an influencer with a cult following asks their followers to do something? To answer the latter, we must first understand the phenomena known as parasocial relationships. 

Defined as “a one-sided relationship where one person creates an emotional attachment and invests their time and energy, while the other party doesn’t know of the other person’s existence,” parasocial relationships are a hallmark of social media users, especially younger users post-pandemic.

In a recent study by Wellesley College’s Youth Media and Well-Being Research Lab, researchers found that 90 percent of kids have social media by the time they turn 12 (7th grade for context). With the advent of coronavirus, lockdown and the implementation of remote learning in 2020, millions of teenagers leaned harder on social media to maintain physically distanced relationships and monitor ever-evolving news. In the process, many gravitated to familiar faces, screentime soared and the popularity of specialized, social media personalities rose with it. 

These relationships are built on constant content, frequent user interaction and intensely personal exchanges occurring several times a day. Intimacy is key. 

Most influencers cultivate a following over time, then use these followers to secure lucrative brand deals and partnerships. While encouraging your fans to buy a product or use a service is commonplace, the power of influencers to mobilize fans in real life beyond just buying a product, to encourage them to go somewhere and do something, is still unpredictable and relatively immeasurable.

In the case of Cenat, he unwittingly baited followers to do something dangerous. What was meant to be a good time, short giveaway and brief interaction, became something much more serious. Another interesting element here, the gathering was sparked by a relatively small medium.

If you’re unfamiliar with Twitch, it’s a social media platform best known for live-streaming events, including video game tournaments and product reviews. The platform hosts approximately 140M active monthly users. For context, that’s 1/3 of X’s (formerly Twitter) monthly audience, less than 1/4 of Tiktok’s and barely 1/20 of Meta’s. Cenat, the influencer at the heart of this scandal, is one of Twitch’s most followed creators. To date, he has over 6.5M subscribers and he posts content daily. 

This “riot” resulted from a perfect storm of circumstances. Post-pandemic teens, a diligently followed social media personality, the rise of parasocial relationships, the promise of a free, coveted product, a general lack of awareness about and unpredictability of calls to action on social media – these all melded together to create a moment New York City was unprepared for, yet one we can learn from. As communicators who often partner with influencers like Cenat or work with clients including city departments or public policymakers, we must be prepared. 

It is important that we understand how to predict, understand and measure the power these online figures have to mobilize their followers. Frankly, we must acknowledge this power exists in the first place. Most importantly, we must work towards ensuring and encouraging online personalities to use their influence for good. 

The Surge of ‘Woke-Washing’ in the Advertising Landscape 

Last month New Yorkers found themselves immersed in a thought-provoking ad campaign that’s been taking over subway stations throughout Manhattan. Dove, renowned for its commitment to challenging conventional beauty standards, is at the forefront of this advertising endeavor with its “The Pits of New York” and #FreeThePits campaign, strategically launched just in time for the fashion week.  

The campaign’s underlying message intended to resonate with women, shedding light on the impact of underarm insecurities, particularly in relation to clothing choices and social activities. Dove’s 2022 Underarm Confidence Survey further reveals a reality that a significant number of women feel subjected to judgment based on their underarms. Society’s fixation on promoting an ‘ideal’ underarm—one that’s hairless, smooth, odorless and evenly toned—adds to this issue. 

However, despite campaigns like Dove’s seemingly heralding a positive shift in today’s advertising landscape, they have not been exempt from controversy. A notable instance was their 2017 Facebook ad for body wash, which depicted a Black woman removing her shirt to reveal a white woman. This ad drew immediate criticism from thousands of viewers who perceived it as having racist undertones. While Dove promptly responded and issued an apology on social media, the incident raised concerns about their approval procedures and whether a diverse group of individuals had the opportunity to review the ad before it went live. 

PR practitioners, well-acquainted with the challenges of managing public perception, have found themselves at the forefront of these debates when things go awry. A recent case in point is Bud Light, which faced a barrage of criticism due to its association with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney. In an attempt to salvage its image, the brand resorted to using a meme on social media, ironically mocking its own handling of the controversy. This approach backfired, drawing criticism from both PR experts and consumers alike. It further solidified the perception that the brand was mishandling the situation and jeopardizing its relationships with its customer base and the LGBTQ+ community. Bud Light’s experience is far from unique in the realm of poorly executed campaigns. The infamous 2017 Pepsi commercial featuring Kendall Jenner is another example of a brand missing the mark on social activism.  

Dove’s recent campaigns, although well-intentioned, underscore the importance of scrutiny and diverse perspectives. In today’s age of “woke-washing,” brands face the challenge of finding the right balance between impactful messaging and avoiding harm. PR practitioners play a pivotal role in guiding these brands toward authentic connections with their audiences. In this era of heightened social awareness, the lessons drawn from both successful and misguided campaigns serve as valuable guidance for advertisers aiming to create a positive impact. 

Rebuilding Public Trust: The Vital Role of PR Professionals in a Skeptical News Landscape

In an era marked by rapid technological advancements and a relentless surge of information, public trust in news organizations has reached an all-time low. The pervasive influence of social media, coupled with a barrage of misinformation, has fueled skepticism among audiences, leading to a growing sense of mistrust in traditional news outlets. As this crisis of credibility deepens, the role of public relations professionals and the communications industry becomes increasingly pivotal in restoring faith in the media landscape.

The advent of digital platforms has democratized information dissemination, allowing for a plethora of voices to be heard. However, it has also given rise to the spread of unverified and sensationalized content that blurs the lines between facts and falsehoods. This information overload has left the public grappling with uncertainty and skepticism and rebuilding trust has become imperative. A recent study by the Gallup and Knight Foundation, “American Views 2022: Part 2, sheds light on the state of public mistrust in news organizations. The study found that over 50 percent of respondents reject the statement that “national news organizations do not intend to mislead.”  Only a quarter of respondents supported this statement. In other words, Americans perceive their news organizations as deceptive. 

At the forefront of this battle for credibility stand public relations professionals and the communications industry. As communications experts, we bridge the gap between news organizations and their audiences. By fostering transparent and authentic relationships with reporters, public relations practitioners can pave the way for open communication and credible reporting. 

Ethical storytelling, as defined by NonProfit PRO, is the “sharing of narratives committed to honesty, accuracy and empathy, with an awareness of their potential impact on people’s lives.” This is one key strategy that public relations practitioners  can collectively employ to do our part in ensuring that truthful and honest information remains centered in society. By embracing the principles of ethical storytelling in our work – transparency, accuracy, empathy and responsibility – professionals in public relations and the wider communications sector can play a role in helping journalists and news organizations restore public trust in them and the information they provide through unbiased, comprehensive coverage that contributes to a more informed and engaged society.

Public relations professionals can champion ethical storytelling by urging news organizations to focus on narratives that represent reality, are based on facts and resonate with the public’s values and concerns. We can offer journalists first-person perspectives from a variety of sources to provide  holistic stories, call out the significance of transparent and ethical communication within our industry, correct situations where the media provides false information or deliberately confuses the public with messages that are detrimental or lack factual basis. 

By promoting ethical storytelling and approaching our work with empathy and open-mindedness, news outlets will connect with their audiences on a deeper level based on trust. 

The decline in public trust in news organizations is a complex issue that demands immediate attention. As we navigate this era of information overload, the partnership between news organizations and PR practitioners will be the cornerstone of restoring faith in the fourth estate.

From PR to Planet: Why greenwashing won’t save the earth

The WHO announced in 2019 that they expect 250,000 more deaths per year from climate change through malnutrition, malaria, and heat stress between 2030 and 2050. As we get closer to irreversible climate damage, we can clearly see the effect it will have on our everyday lives. For example, just weeks ago, New York experienced the worst air quality ever in U.S. history. This is just one of many events, such as the California wildfires and the 2014 Midwest Polar Vortex, that illustrate the wide-ranging impacts of climate change on the U.S. As we continue to see drastic changes to our environment, there has been a consistent shift in public attention towards the climate crisis. As it becomes more of a social issue, corporations have taken to the media to maintain their image and so-called “commitment” to environmental safety. 

Household names from Starbucks to JP Morgan Chase to H&M all boast “climate consciousness” and take advantage of the many positive PR opportunities associated with taking a stand for the environment. This is known as greenwashing, a tactic in which big organizations win over customers by creating an image of being environmentally friendly.  

Five years ago, Starbucks released their popular “straw-less lid” to reduce plastic waste and improve the safety of aquatic life, mainly sea turtles. Though this new lid reduced the number of plastic straws in circulation, it used greater amounts of plastic than the previous straw-based design. Starbucks representatives rebutted outcries around this by claiming that the new polypropylene material is a more commonly accepted form of recyclable plastic, though critics identified that only 9% of plastic is recycled globally. Starbucks capitalized on a PR opportunity to “save the turtles” but traded one form of the plastic for another.  

H&M is among many clothing and fashion brands that take part in greenwashing as well.  It has been shown that only 20% of textiles are reused or recycled. The remaining 80% are incinerated or given a lifetime sentence in a landfill. H&M has recently released its “Conscious” line that contains a selection of sustainable clothing, though this is mere marketing terminology as there is no “sustainable” standard to be followed. H&M has not provided sufficient data to back its sustainability statement and has been publicly criticized by the Norwegian Customer Authority. 

These two examples exemplify the marketing manipulation corporations undertake to meet consumer demands of eco-consciousness. However, there is yet another story to be told on the monetary front. Billion-dollar banks such as JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs, are some of the many banks that have issued green investment protocols in support of opportunities that combat the climate crisis. Despite these protocols, these same banks are major funders of the industries that most negatively impact climate change such as fossil fuels and deforestation. These banks and corporations attempt to paint themselves as leaders of the go-green transition in the eyes of the public, though, in the depths of their operations, they act otherwise. 

Corporations want to look good in the media and are willing to do so by any means necessary. They will prioritize a good PR opportunity over making an impact. We often fail to read between the lines and hold these companies to the standard they publicly set for themselves.  

Here are three ways that we, as PR practitioners, can hold these companies accountable, develop quality campaigns, and be agents for change: 

  1. Only act from an informed place. To avoid having to backtrack, only create a plan of action once you have a comprehensive set of information. For example, if Starbucks genuinely wanted to reduce plastic use, they could have used seaweed or paper straws – a much more sustainable option. Talk to experts in the field and develop a plan that would produce real change, while also making for a relevant story. There is a way to marry both parties, with substance always being the most important part of your campaign.  
  2. Be a leader – or even better, a trendsetter. People will want to follow companies who are in tune with current events. Create initiatives that draw consumers in just by engaging with the issues that matter. Focus on the long-term goals, rather than the short-term gains. 
  3. Create transparent, authentic campaigns. It is important to build a level of trust between you and your consumers. Start with a transparent, authentic approach. Pure intentions that are clearly communicated to your audience will solidify your relationship with your customer base and stakeholders and ultimately help support your brand reputation. 

Billion-dollar corporations have consistently used loopholes to push campaigns that look good in the media, while still maintaining practices that are inconsistent with their supposed values. This then translates into the public assuming they are climate positive, but it is often just a façade to generate good press and business. As PR professionals we must hold our clients to a moral standard and ensure that through the campaigns we help create, the result is purposeful and well-educated. By following these three tactics and learning from other mistakes, we can work alongside these larger corporations to make a real impact on our climate.  


Ohio Train Derailment: Public Relations in Holding Institutions Accountable

On February 3, 2023, the freight train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio resulted in dismaying amounts of toxic chemicals released into the atmosphere and subsequent evacuation orders. In a town where residents were already facing socioeconomic obstacles, this disaster exacerbated safety and quality of life concerns.

Almost three months later, residents are still in disarray with many staying in motels due to valid fears of returning or official prohibition as a result of ongoing cleanup. Those that have returned are still extremely concerned about the air, water and soil quality.

Property value reduction, long-term health ailments and mental health issues are just a few causes of distress for residents. This incident sickened and displaced many in the community. It catalyzed previous conversations about safety precautions and the location of such railroads which are disproportionately placed in lower-income, often Indigenous, communities of color.

While derailments have decreased by more than three quarters since the 1970’s according to federal data, large freight railroads have seen an increase in derailments in five of the last seven years. Large freight railroad companies began introducing precision-scheduled railroading in 2016 to enhance efficiency by running fewer trains on tighter schedules. With a goal of cutting expenses, trains tend to be longer and heavier in an effort to transport as much cargo as possible. Tighter scheduling to cut costs could arguably be the cause of increased human error, equipment and track failure.

Despite historic activist outcry regarding train route placement in marginalized communities, industry leaders say that most derailments occur within the confines of rail yards and make public statements focusing on train safety in comparison to other modes of transportation such as driving. This deliberate disregard for ostracized community concerns is unfortunately common practice by many corporations and public officials.

The Biden Administration made a statement committing to visit East Palestine but has not followed through and has continued to defend its response to this toxic freight train derailment, even as local leaders demand increased efforts and clarity around the long-term effects of the disaster.

When disasters happen as a result of corporations’ carelessness, PR is often thought of only in terms of damage control for the company responsible. But PR practitioners are also responsible for utilizing their expertise to aid the communities impacted by such tragedies.

PR professionals play an enormous role in the dissemination of information concerning the initial and long-term response to such calamities. During the initial phases of such an event, PR professionals must work with journalists and their clients to galvanize public awareness and financial contributions. Long-term responses involve recognizing the reality that our world today is afflicted by a plethora of problems that deserve attention and require resources and thus doing our part to ensure that those affected are not forgotten.

In the case of the train derailment in East Palestine where the long-term health implications of this event are largely unknown, pushing for thorough monitoring of the water and air quality is indispensable. Long-term coverage and media attention and connecting media to those on the ground who can tell their stories is paramount to holding Norfolk Southern Corporation accountable for the promises they have made to remedy this situation, and for putting pressure on government officials to enact better safety regulations and to address the socioeconomic implications. A primary responsibility in this response must also be to encourage continued research into health hazards associated with spilled chemicals such as vinyl chloride and phosgene.

The issue of train derailments has been a historic point of contention, often affecting communities already facing additional deprivation and disparity. PR for situations intertwined with oppression such as this involves amplifying community voices, extending our resources, connecting with our audiences to encourage additional assistance and monitoring media and social platforms for the vocalized needs of those impacted.

As we move forward, we must keep those affected a priority by encouraging our clients to contribute when appropriate. All the while, no initiative should merely be intended for press opportunities. As with the PR tactics surrounding any tragedy, the intention must be to benefit those impacted by raising awareness and resources, magnifying the needs of the affected community and educating the public on ways to prevent similar events.

Artifact’s Effects on Journalism and PR – the AI-Based News App by the Founders of Instagram

Apps that run on algorithm-fueled personalization are gaining traction. Popular social network TikTok now has more than 1 billion users, and the demand for this type of customization via technology is not going unnoticed.

In early 2023, the co-founders of Instagram launched Artifact, a social app optimizing artificial intelligence to deliver a “personalized news feed” based on users’ interests. The app currently has two key features: a feed with popular articles from major news outlets to smaller bloggers and a feed that is constantly built based on users’ readership behavior. The founders of Artifact are already discussing potential features that may be underway including sharing articles with friends to discuss in private chats as well as following users to view articles they have reposted with their commentaries.

With chaos ensuing over at Twitter between a surge in misinformation and derogatory tweets, the firing and resigning of thousands of employees, declining interest from advertisers and glitching, Artifact debuted at the perfect time and may be the catalyst of a few (side) effects:

  1.     A significant increase in news readership – Last year, The New York Times reported an increase of 180,000 online subscribers in the third quarter of 2022 alone. Despite trust in the media declining, publishers are expecting an increase in subscriptions in 2023. Social media is known for its power to keep users locked in for hours and Artifact’s potential in this realm should be no exception. With more features for customization, such as pausing articles from certain publications from being on your feed, as well as features for sharing articles with friends and following users, there is so much for users to be engrossed in. In turn, Artifact may further the impact of news influencers, causing waves of trends in article popularity and public opinion.
  2.     The double-edged sword of the algorithm – “Every time we use machine learning to improve the consumer experience, things got really good really quickly.” Co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger understand how to give the people what they want. However, there are already circulating concerns about the power of algorithms to keep users in a cloud of their own opinions and ideas. Will Artifact continue to push this, furthering confirmation bias through the fusion of algorithm-based social media and traditional media – two fields already accused of being divisive?
  3.     A greater spread of misinformation – As more avenues for news readership and news sharing emerge, there is an increasing threat of the spread of misinformation. Artifact plans to address this by only including both left- and right-wing publishers that comply with its editorial standards of quality and by removing posts that contain disinformation. Systrom is vocal about Artifact’s commitment to quality news and has commented on “companies’ unwillingness to make subjective judgments in the name of quality and progress for humanity”. However, the founders will only be able to prove the app’s competence in doing so as the platform gains more users and features.

Social media platforms have proven their services and disservices to the news industry in the past decades. Elon Musk’s Twitter is a primary example of a once distinguished tool for journalism and PR going awry. While Artifact’s co-founders have seemingly addressed major concerns regarding news media, like the propagation of misinformation and amplification of the wrong voices, their commitment to quality news circulation will require immense integrity with respect to the power of influencers, virality and artificial intelligence.


Advocacy Today: The Benefits of Integrated PR and Digital Marketing Campaigns

The emergence of digital marketing has given cause-driven organizations a unique opportunity to reach their audience at any moment with a wide selection of channels and tactics at their disposal. Digital marketing generally involves promoting products, services or ideas to consumers online through social media, email, texting, influencer marketing, digital advertising and search engine optimization (SEO). Public relations (PR), on the other hand, is the strategic communications process that builds bridges between the organization and their audiences. In a modern world with a rapidly changing news cycle and ever-advancing technology, a fully integrated PR and digital marketing strategy will help you stay grounded in your mission and values while effectively reaching your audience where they are.  

When it comes to fact-checking and research, studies show that younger consumers in the U.S. now rely on a mix of social media and traditional news as their main sources of information. At a high level, PR helps to shape the news and the stories being told – which is especially powerful in the age of disinformation online. The messages we deliver as PR professionals either work to strengthen or dismantle preconceived notions that our audiences hold.  

While digital marketing is a fast and powerful medium for delivery, opponents and competitors also have access to the same tools. PR tactics like building reporter relationships and placing critical stories can help provide additional context to combat disinformation or harmful narratives. Specifically, responding to existing stories with alternative viewpoints through letters to the editor, often referred to as LTEs, placing op-eds, offering commentary on breaking news stories or working on background with reporters to shape their storytelling can help bring nuance to discourse around important issues and allow readers to make informed decisions.  

In addition to influencing news, PR should set both the foundation and the parameters for your digital marketing strategy. How you talk about yourself as an organization determines legitimacy, and how you talk about your issue campaigns determines resonance. Crafting precise and intentional language is a core part of PR work, and this language will then be adapted for digital copy to fit different channels and audiences in your digital plan.  

For example, if your organization wants to engage Gen Z audiences online and work with influencers to amplify the campaign, your PR team or agency should be the first folks onboarded for the conversation. They can help decide which influencers are a right fit for the organization’s image and brand and determine parameters for what the influencers can and cannot say under the partnership.  

Lastly, digital marketing tools can also help your organization optimize PR efforts. If you struggle to hear back from reporters whose inboxes are flooded with requests, you may find that they are more active and accessible on Twitter. The purpose of Twitter for advocacy organizations is to connect with journalists, elected officials and similar organizations by tagging the proper accounts, adding relevant hashtags and sending direct messages. Twitter can also help you better understand a reporter’s beat, what they currently need and craft an effective pitch accordingly. 

Your PR and digital marketing teams should always be in conversation with each other. Effective PR is essential for your organization’s brand, which impacts the legitimacy of your campaigns. If PR shapes the news, then digital marketing spreads key messages – both inherently come together to affect political decisions and inform public opinion. By embracing PR as a core component of your campaign strategy, you can maximize the effectiveness of your digital marketing efforts to spread awareness, inspire action and change hearts and minds. 

Public Relations in Advancing Environmental Justice

Environmental justice is at the forefront of concerns for many Americans and people around the world. As climate change hastens and natural disasters ensue, individuals and companies alike are being forced to understand this truth and mitigate its impact. With crop yields taking massive hits due to drought, increased and more aggressive wildfires destroying residential areas, rising sea levels and more, we are tasked with not only finding ways to reduce our carbon emissions, but also sequester the carbon that is already engulfed in our atmosphere. As PR professionals in the non-profit sector, we can weigh in on these issues and spread much needed awareness.  

Utilizing public relations to build momentum around important issues can captivate clients, donors and other stakeholders. More and more, the acknowledgement of social justice issues is a deciding factor in one’s willingness to support an organization. As with taking on any point of concern, it is important to stay vigilant in talking about the cause rather than the company itself. Staying focused on these goals and backing them with actions exhibits a dedication to making a difference, not just achieving notoriety.  

One can consider the Love Canal incident in Niagara Falls, New York. The abandoned canal became a dumping site for roughly 22,000 tons of chemical waste in the 1940’s and 1950’s which eventually resulted in detrimental health outcomes for residents in the area, according to the New York State Department of Health. By 1978 there were growing reports of birth defects, liver disorders, skin rashes and respiratory problems. The Love Canal Homeowners Association (LCHA) utilized public relations advocacy to vocalize resident needs. As a result, 1,300 former residents received a much deserved $20,000,000 settlement. Throughout the incident, LCHA ensured that resident concerns were the top priority in conversation.   

In working to advance environmental justice, public relations professionals must recognize the ways in which lower income communities, communities of color and Indigenous communities are disproportionately impacted by climate change. Oftentimes those that benefit most from environmental policies and initiatives are those representing more privileged sectors of society. Acknowledging this truth shows commitment to intersectionality and the willingness to work for all communities regardless of social status. By taking this approach, PR professionals can help clients strengthen their environmental justice related campaigns. 

Crafting communication around environmental justice should not only educate people, but it should also provide hope. Much of the conversation around climate change is bleak, so it is important to make a conscious effort to provide evidence that shows how your clients are making a difference. When people lack hope, it deters involvement and willingness to care. Focusing on your client’s environmental progressions can help grab attention and make them stand out in the conversation.  

In the same vein, elevating the voices of those who have been positively impacted by the organization is crucial to showing the significance of the work. In a world where media is over saturated with information, human stories are one of the most effective ways to connect with the minds of consumers. By bringing in real people and their stories, you can humanize the climate crisis and better penetrate your client’s target audience with your messaging. 

If we are going to achieve the needed advancements in environmental justice, we need powerful and effective communication to maximize mitigation efforts.  

How Changes at Twitter Could Impact the Public Relations World

Elon Musk recently cemented his grip on Twitter with a series of bombshell announcements. He laid off 3,500 members of the company’s staff, proposed an $8 monthly fee for blue tick verifications and demanded that Twitter’s remaining employees work “long hours at high intensity.” Last week another 2,000 Twitter staff resigned, advertisers are abandoning the platform in droves, and users are noticing increasingly visible glitches. It’s worth wondering what Musk’s chaotic management of Twitter means for the platform’s future, its users and PR practitioners.

First off, it’s not unique for a mogul to own a media company. Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, Mark Zuckerberg owns Meta and Instagram and Michael Bloomberg owns, well, Bloomberg in all its iterations.

However, Musk’s ownership of Twitter has been unusually chaotic. Unlike his contemporaries’ detached management style, Musk leads Twitter with a highly personal approach, fusing a radically pro-free speech political philosophy with a sporadic, anything-goes management style. Within days of Musk’s takeover, there was a noticeable spike in racist and problematic Tweets. The National Contagion Research Institute documented this with a study finding that the number of Tweets with the n-word increased by 500 percent only hours after the Musk takeover was announced.

Additionally, the platform has experienced a surge in misinformation since the reorganization. After the attack on Paul Pelosi earlier this month, Musk retweeted a roundly discredited conspiracy theory about the attacker. Despite deleting the comment after fierce pushback, this conspiracy theory reached millions of followers and was trending worldwide by the day’s end. If this is the standard set by those at the top, it’s fair to worry that trolls will be emboldened to push more outlandish conspiracy theories. Musk made news again when he lifted the network’s ban on Donald Trump. With the former president’s entry into the 2024 presidential primary, the prospect of a Trump return to Twitter could pose an even greater risk to the spread of disinformation.

Lastly, network users have noticed a considerable decline in the platform’s quality. With the exodus of 5,000+ employees, including many content moderators and engineers, Twitter simply doesn’t have enough staff to address the daily roster of tech issues experienced by users. With the platform expecting especially high traffic for the 2022 World Cup, it’s anyone’s guess whether Twitter will be able to stay online.

For a social media platform intrinsically linked to breaking news and reporting, the rise of misinformation and decline in quality have led journalists and PR specialists alike to examine alternative avenues of communication. Rival networks, such as Mastodon and Reddit, have pitched themselves as decentralized alternatives to the increasingly fledgling giant. While Twitter is by no means irrelevant, the network must regain level footing (administratively, technologically and socially) before it can be expected to be treated as a forum for thoughtful debate and pressing information. While many factors are at play here, one thing is certain: this responsibility starts at the top.

The Importance of Human Stories in Effective Nonprofit PR

When it comes to PR and communications, human stories are the most powerful tool you have in advancing your organization’s mission. While you must have solid facts and figures at your disposal to give credence to your organization, those facts can feel vague on their own. This is why nonprofit and advocacy organizations often find reporters asking to speak with a member of the community that they serve. A first-person story turns abstract concepts into real, relatable truths.

For example, while the executive director of an environmental justice organization may be able to speak fluently to which policies must be put in place to address high rates of asthma in communities of color, a person living with asthma caused by poor air quality has the lived experience. It is their story which shows a reader why they should care.

Some organizations may understandably feel uneasy asking a member of the community they serve if they would like to speak to press. If you work for an organization dedicated to ending hunger, you know that those who depend on food banks to feed their family can be subject to undeserved judgment or bias. However, many people find power in telling their stories and know that experiencing hardship is nothing to be ashamed of. The most important thing is to make clear that you are inviting them to speak because you believe that their voice is important and that you will continue supporting them regardless of their decision.

A good PR representative will work with you to identify a person who can speak to a given issue and will set parameters ahead of an interview with a reporter. For example, if your organization serves survivors of domestic violence, your PR rep will speak with the potential interviewee to identify what they do and do not feel comfortable disclosing to ensure their safety and will go over options such as aliases. Your PR rep will then convey this to the reporter and have them agree to the parameters ahead of the interview. The overwhelming majority of reporters are grateful for the opportunity to share an impactful story that does not put anyone vulnerable at risk.

When a nonprofit wants to demonstrate the importance of their work, they need look no further than those they serve.

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