Apologies and #Socialmedia in Crisis Comms PR

In my 8 ways to deal with negative criticism in social media course, I outline the 8 ways to deal with trolls on Facebook and bad reviews in social media. You can ignore, educate, lawyer up, fight back, confess, own etc. (see social media chart at bottom of post). Each social media response comes with a positive and a negative possible response (and you’ll often get both). The confession step is fine – apologise away – but make sure you are not digging a bigger hole.

Badly Handled Crisis Comms in Social Media by @ABCAustralia – Don’t Apologise! OR: How to make a rod for your own back and then hand it to enemies and say “beat me”.

In my 8 ways to deal with negative criticism course, I outline the 8 ways to deal with trolls and bad reviews. You can ignore, educate, lawyer up, fight back, confess, own etc. (see chart at bottom of post). Each one comes with a positive and a negative possible response (and you’ll often get both).

The confession step is fine – apologise away – but make sure you are not digging a bigger hole.


Here’s an interesting case of an apology gone wrong.

The Problem for Zaky Malik

When Zaky Malik said :

“As the first man in Australia to be charged with terrorism under the harsh Liberal Howard government in 2003, I was subject to solitary confinement, a 22-hour lockdown, dressed in most times in an orange overall and treated like a convicted terrorist while under the presumption of innocence,” Mr Mallah said.

“I had done and said some stupid things, including threatening to kidnap and kill, but in 2005 I was acquitted of those terrorism charges.

“What would have happened if my case had been decided by the minister himself and not the courts?”

As a young hotheaded man, he made a threat against ASIO for refusing to issue him a passport and refusing to tell him why. He made a video making threats but was cleared on terrorism charges and went to jail for making threats against the police etc. He served his time, he was young and stupid and seems marginally more together now.

Community Manager Note :This case triggers other issues rife with all sorts of moral and ethically challenges for the community to debate: should a young  Australian man be stripped of citizenship for joining or attempting to join an overseas army? when else should young people be stripped of citizenship – maybe the one-hit punch at pubs and footy matches? domestic abuse?  With no rule of law (the minister decides) at what point is a stupid decision an expulsion decision? Then: should a decision made over 10 years ago mean you are banned from asking a question on QandA? Should Q and A stop people who have been subject to those laws from asking about the laws – in other words, should only those NEVER in danger of breaking that law (or only those who make the laws) enter debates? List the possible discussion topics but be prepared for a lot more!

The Big Problem for Government

Steve Ciobo, the parliamentary secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs:

“From memory, I thought you were acquitted on a technicality rather than it being on the basis of a substantial finding of fact,” Mr Ciobo replied.

“My understanding of your case was that you were acquitted because at that point in time the laws weren’t retrospective.

“But I’m happy to look you straight in the eye and say that I’d be pleased to be part of the Government that would say that you were out of the country.

“I would sleep very soundly at night with that point of view.”

In other words, I don’t really know your case but I would’ve expelled you from Australia. Rule of Law? What rule of law?  This Government official – senior, foreign affairs – stating I’m happy to remove an Australian citizen citizenship without knowing the full details should be a Big problem for the Gov.

Community Manager Note: Gov in disaster recovery mode did EXACTLY the right deflection strategy – blame the questioner, blame the platform, blame technology, whatever you can, deflect elsewhere. Note also bringing on other key influencers ( e.g. Media) to reinforce the deflection strategy. Bloggers will challenge some points but not others. Keep the focus on the deflection point, not the main one.

The HUGE Problem for the ABC

The Executive Producer Richard Finlayson said:

“In attempting to explore important issues about the rights of citizens and the role of the Government in fighting terrorism, the Q&A program made an error in judgement in allowing Zaky Mallah to join the audience and ask a question,” Mr Finlayson said in a statement.

It was an error to allow an Australian to ask a question about citizenship? Or was it an error to allow an Australian convicted of making a threat against Police/ASIO and who “did his time” to ask a question? …because God forbid that someone actually impacted by a law should be allowed to discuss that law publicly

Which would be fine if Zaky Mallah stood up, flew a flag and said “join ISIL or ISIS or whatevs”. But he didn’t. He asked a reasonable question – his case was decided by the courts. What if it was decided by the Minister? Or the Parliamentary secretary to Minister for Foreign Affairs? Would he still be an Australian citizen today. Pertinent to topic, an “insiders” view as it were…

Community Manager Note: If something daft; happens, don’t apologise until you have had time to review the situation. Nothing calls for baying of blood as much as an unwarranted apology. It leaves you nowhere to go…

Perhaps Richard Finlayson should’ve said:

“In attempting to explore important issues about the rights of citizens and the role of the Government in fighting terrorism, the Q&A program made an error in judgement in allowing Steve Ciobo to join the panel and to threaten to remove an audience member’s  Australian citizenship without due process through the courts and acknowledging he was not fully briefed or informed on the appropriateness of that action.”

But that was never going to happen. Never. And now the Gov has ABC on the back foot. This was badly handled. VERY badly handled.

The problem there was that while the wording was fuzzy the intent was clear – Zaky Malik was saying that if you make young dispossessed people angry and dispossess them further, they will be vulnerable to being radicalised. How do we know this? Because of what he said on The Project last year.

If Australia is going to deport every troll, media attention seeker and kid throwing around threats, I’ve got a list I’ll hand over to ASIO and the Minister. Just don’t put it to the test under law, cos they’d never get through.
NegativeComments in Social Media

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  1. What. No responses? Just goes to show how little people understood and are interested in what really happened on Q&A that night and how little people understand or are interested in that Rule of Law these days. TA and his friendly media mates and the Opposition have succeeded in dumbing down, distorting, lying, cheating, fear mongering everything and then some. So much so that even the likes of Tony Jones doesn’t even take the time to understand that final comment by Zaky Mallah. Somebody, please, get me out of this Orwellian nightmare! Aaaaargh!

    1. Most of my responses are on social media – Facebook seems the most popular in this instance. The old days of comments have gone I’m afraid LOL but we are still outraged just on Facebook and other platforms than blogs 😉
      Thanks for your comment. xxxx Laurel

      1. Yes of course. Thanks Laurel. I guess I just get so annoyed these days I just have to respond. Lot of good it does though. Can’t see anything changing any time soon.

      2. hi laurel.
        I agree with your account of what happened.
        Ciobo made a remark about Julia Gilliard sometime ago something about her throat…..I see that remark about our prime minister as being very serious ……if malik made that remark he would have been deported…..not a malik fan but agree with you that ACC apologised too quickly…..the other bloke on Q&A Morris also mad some threatening remarks about Julia gilliard and both were allowed on Q&A……I don’t hear turnbull saying they both should have been scrutinised out of the forum.

  2. Thanks, Laurel

    Yes, I agree with your presentation of the issues here, and am disgusted (if unsurprised) by the arrogant, shamelessly uninformed nature of our ‘democratic’ ‘representative’s response. Not in my name – either he really is that ego-driven and daft, or he’s trying to appeal to the fear-based, bigoted racism that sees my gentlest, most beautiful, intelligent and compassionate of friends called ‘black c…’, apropos of nothing at all, in the main street of our regional centre. It’s out here, people – the very worst of what that C..bo ‘minister’ person is appealing to for vote purposes. And I ache that the (admittedly Howard-installed)ABC boss saw fit to apologise (survival strategy?) – it was no error of judgement! It was intelligent, adult, thinking debate. As one of the program’s tweets chillingly twote (past tense?)’Our government’s given up on the rule of law. Get a gun.’ It’s the terrorism of media control. What can we do? Maybe check recent ‘Get Up’ for something like community-based action in response to this troubling issue. Connect. Maybe start to take back our compassionate human power. Evaluate. Watch David Graeber. Connect. Watch ‘The Emporers New Clothes’. Evaluate….

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