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2. That the nature of communication, mostly via social media, has changed the speed of unfolding events at all levels of politics.

News events and scandals travel like an avalanche now, picking up speed (and commentary) across the virtual landscape. A day is now A. Long. Time. in politics. If something happens on a weekend now, you can’t just wait til Monday or when the board/committee can meet to address the issue anymore. In this case, the SFWA President was travelling over the weekend and was physically incapable of addressing the issue as it unfolded. For me, watching it all, it felt like a very long silence before SFWA made an official statement. And it made me feel uncomfortable  – I know how the President feels about sexism, and still, I started to feel a bit unsure about whether, maybe, I wasn’t as sure about their position as I had been. Maybe the organisation had different values? Afterall, I had heard for years how sexist this organisation was.

In reality, I first came across it at about 7.30/8pm Friday night, by the time I got up late on Saturday morning there was an official statement that there would be a taskforce “to look at the Bulletin and to determine how the publication needs to proceed from this point in order to be a valuable and useful part of the SFWA member experience” and yesterday the official statement from the President was made which takes responsibility for what happened and reinforces the value of all members to the organisation. So, a timespan of maybe 60 hours?

Not really a long time, in thinking about the speed that organisations work through processes. Not a long time to gather facts, speak to those involved, assess the situation and develop a way forward. And not a long time when considering the President was travelling, it was a weekend and a volunteer organisation.

But. This is the internet age. I don’t think the pace is going to slow down or people’s expectations for action to be mediated by “what’s reasonable”. The avalanche rolls down the mountain gathering volume and speed. And the shouting into the void gets angrier the longer it goes on unmitigated.

I don’t necessarily think there’s an obvious here. If you speed up your reaction to situations, you are more than likely going to make a mistake, regret things you say or do or suffer the consequences of kneejerk reactions. Everybody, including those who have made mistakes, deserve due process and for decisions to be made that set precedents that are fair and are not in the heat of the moment. So often the second thing you think to say or do is wiser and better than the first. There are countless examples lately of news stations covering unfolding events and reporting false information in their rush to be the first to get the scoop. Some of these can be very damaging. That said, I don’t see things slowing down. I don’t see people moderating their expectations for instant-ness to take that into consideration. I think the five day working week will slide into the past, with expectations of always being available and for people to think and act on their feet. And with that, in the process of learning how to do that, I think we will see more and more events and the PR of them, mismanaged as they unfold.

In this case, I personally think a public statement reinforcing the values of SFWA along with all the other services and work that the organisation does for its membership would have gone a long way to heading off some of the online drama at the pass. This would have placed the issue of the Bulletin, one aspect of the organisation, into more of a context – that it’s not all of what SFWA does, and that opinions expressed in it do not reflect the values of the organisation as a whole.

As an observer, watching from the outside looking in, I am interested to see what the taskforce will produce. But until they do, this story is hard to assess.

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  • By Grant Watson on 6 June 2013 at 8:51 pm

    I saw a presentation on social media at the Australian International Education Conference a few years back, and the presenter there mentioned that in the event of a social media crisis – which this was – an organisation has approximately 60 minutes to respond otherwise it’s too late.

  • By AlisaK on 6 June 2013 at 8:54 pm

    Wow. Yeah in 60 minutes you could stamp it out but even then, you’d have to be totally on top of it.

    Even if your job was solely PR/media relations, that kind of availability and capability to react is pretty demanding.

  • […] Alisa’s Observations Part I & Part II […]

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