Twitter storms and managing their increasing intensity

Twitter storms and managing their increasing intensity

Mark's Musings March 2023

By Mark Harris, CrisisFit® Crisis Management Lead and Advisor with Sheena Thomson Consulting.

There is no doubt that Twitter continues to be controversial.  The micro-blogging social media platform favoured by many, particularly public figures and journalists, has its pros and cons. On the plus side, it is great for sharing information, and ideas, and for accessing news sources as well as self-promotion and promoting others or products. Equally, it can be the launchpad for controversy, bad news and hate, aid the spread of misinformation, and worse still, propagate disinformation. Regardless of this, since Elon Musk’s takeover late last year, Twitter has become something of a ‘free for all’ as Musk firmly believes in the basic right of free speech.  However, is the platform geared up to dealing with the risks and reactions this free speech presents its users with?

Considering Newton’s third law of motion concisely summed up as “every action has an equal and opposite reaction”, is it applicable to Twitter? Absolutely not. As witnessed in the manner in which the BBC responded to Gary Lineker’s tweet on 8th March, we see that it is the ‘Law of Unintended Consequences’ that applies. As an observer of this evolving story, the team managing the BBC’s response did little scenario planning as to how matters might play out.  Furthermore, there are also strong indications there has been little to no crisis communications planning for a social media storm of this magnitude. Central to the case is the basic right to express one’s views freely.

Another case that has laid bare the flaws of expressing personal views and messages on social media and its unintended consequences is none other than the CEO and owner Elon Musk.  As a staunch defender of free speech, he too regularly finds himself in twitter-storms.  His tweet of 6th November 2022 canvassed the views of his followers that he should sell 10% of his Tesla stock.  This caused the stock price to tumble, leading to legal action and a US $40 million settlement with securities regulators.  And only last week he was again in trouble on his platform over bullying a former disabled employee Haraldur “Halli” Thorleifsson.  He had to back down to avoid the risk of another multi-million-dollar lawsuit.

As Elon Musk continues his management strategy of cutting back on staff at Twitter, many commentators have expressed very real concerns that the redundancies impact functions that ensure the site runs efficiently.  Moreover, the recently reported comments by Twitter insiders in BBC’s Panorama and other major news outlets stating “the company is no longer able to protect users from trolling, state-co-ordinated disinformation and child sexual exploitation” because of the entire department monitoring this has been laid off. None of this is good news.

What is certain, Twitter continues to be a very open platform with hundreds of millions of users, but it is not without its failings and potential to make or break a crisis. This should always be factored into any risk mitigation and crisis communications plan.


BBC News:  Twitter insiders: We can't protect users from trolling under Musk

Time:  Why Elon Musk's Very Public Dismissal of a Disabled Employee Could Be Costly

Gary Lineker’s Twitter handle:  GaryLinekar


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