April 19, 2017 By FTI Consulting
A snapshot of some of the digital and social media news stories and developments across the region over the past two weeks for communications professionals.
United Airlines received a mass of unwelcome headlines and social media chatter all around the world this past week following videos of a bloodied passenger being violently dragged off an overbooked flight. The disturbing videos came under particular fire on Chinese social media. This was in large part because the Vietnamese-born doctor was initially misidentified as ethnically Chinese. The incident quickly became the top story on Weibo, China’s Twitter, amassing a mind-boggling 1.1 billion views in just one week. The hashtag ‘#United Airlines Forcibly Removed Passenger from Aircraft’ started to trend and was included in more than 400,000 angry tweets in which netizens starting sharing their own negative personal experiences with United and calling for a boycott of the airline. Many Chinese users also accused United of racial discrimination against Asians.
The airline’s response on Chinese social media served more as a hindrance than a help. The issuance on its official WeChat account of a blunt translation of CEO Oscar Munoz’s speech in which he said, “I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers”was largely interpreted as insensitive and tone deaf by Chinese users, thus further aggravating the situation.
China remains a key growth market for United. This public relations disaster is a casebook example of how not to handle a crisis in the digital age in which businesses are constantly scrutinised and held accountable for their actions. It should also serve as another reminder that any potential perceptions of racial discrimination against Chinese or Asian people will likely lead to a backlash in the country. As such, businesses operating in China should be mindful of such issues and ensure that strategies and tactics are adapted and localised for the Chinese audience.
Facebook and Google have stepped up efforts to tackle fake information in response to increasing criticism. Both firms have established new fact-checking features intended to stop the spread of misleading news. Facebook recently introduced an educational guide that appears at the top of a user’s news feed to help identify false content. It also partners with third party fact-checking organisations such as PolitiFact and Snopes to flag any stories regarded as being of ‘disputed content’ that are shared by its users. Google is similarly working with fact-checking sites as well as major publishers including the New York Times and the BBC to establish a ‘Fact Check’ feature to label its search results as either ‘true’, ‘mostly false’, or ‘pants on fire’.
Businesses are vulnerable to the threat of misleading stories in an era in which the spread of fake news is increasingly common. These could negatively impact a firm’s reputation. Pepsi is a prime example. The company was victimised following reports of a fictitious comment allegedly made by the firm’s CEO about President Trump that exploded on social media. Companies now need to monitor news and social media more closely than ever before. An early detection and response mechanism for false reports could help prevent the onset of a crisis.
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