A few very salient example of companies/people doing really foolish things illustrate how the world has changed in light of social media.
1. McDonalds created a Twitter hashtag that was supposed to be used for customers to share great stories about McDonalds experiences. But their customers used it to post negative stories. And since McDonalds doesn't control Twitter, there was nothing they could do about it. Clearly, they didn't think through the idea very clearly.
2. The Susan Komen Foundation's Board decided to create a new rule that they would not fund any organization that was under Congressional investigation. This could have been an innocent sensible idea or it could be have been a backdoor excuse to stop funding Planned Parenthood which spends 3% of its budget on abortion (and Komen gets money from some conservative pro-life groups). Whichever reason, they didn't predict how fast the pro-choice side of the story (and conspiracy theory) would sweep through the social media and force them to embarrassingly reverse their decision. the Chair of the Board is on the hotseat and may lose her job.
3. Mitt Romney made the comment that the very poor have a safety net and the very rich can fend for themselves, so it is the 90% of the public in the middle that need the most attention. If this were how he said it, he probably would be OK. It is true that the very poor have a safety net. If there are holes in the safety net, he would work to fix those (he said this in the same speech). The vast middle class has problems that need more attention because they are really screwed up. But he said the words "I don't care about the poor" . . . . It doesn't matter what he said in the rest of the speech. Today, any partial phrase can be cut and pasted out of a speech and spread faster than a wildfire. He really got a roasting for this, even though taken as a whole his speech was correct, moderate, and sensible. Gingrich made fun of him, Obama made fun of him, Jon Stewart made fun of him. Etc Etc Etc.
Why am I posting this in my HF blog? Because we have no privacy any more. Just look at Facebook and Google's new privacy policies. We really have to change the way we approach everything we say, even when we think it is a private exchange with a trusted friend. There was a story in the newspaper about a guy whose ex-girlfriends posted that he cheated on them in Cheaters.com and this turned out to be the first search result on Google when you search for his name. He was a lawyer and used the web to market to clients. If they Googled him, Cheaters.com would be the first thing they found. He couldn't sue for libel or slander because the facts were true. He is screwed.
So, if you read Zittrain's book "The Future of the Internet" (or any of his essays), you will know that the Internet can move all the way towards being protected, and we would have no more Twitter-led Arab Springs. It could go all the other way and be a total Wild West free for all. Or we can be smart and find a new direction. I recommend his book specifically for this message. We are getting it all over the news this week too.