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NNBW Editor Column: Do you have social friends in low places?

Kevin MacMillan

kmacmillan@nevadanewsgroup.com

Kevin MacMillan is editor of the Northern Nevada Business Weekly.
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These days, it goes without saying that most businesses large and small absolutely must have a strong social media presence. It’s a free form of advertising that years ago never existed, and in many ways it provides us an important venue to engage and connect with followers and prospective clients.

That said, I find myself more and more disliking (loathing, even) social media these days.

First, let’s start with the positives. Social media has truly blossomed into a wonderful public bulletin board of sorts, allowing us to see photos of family members who live far away and generally keep up to date with the things that matter most to the important people in our lives: business promotions, fundraising endeavors, relationship updates, etc.

I sometimes joke about how Facebook will soon put high school reunions out of business — after all, I already know what everyone from my graduating class has been up to the past 20 years, what jobs they’ve gotten, who they’ve married, and so on. No need to spend a bunch of money flying home to reconnect with people from yesteryear, I say, when I’ve got all the details at my fingertips.

Another positive — social media is a great place for feel-good moments. Just look at the Twitter accounts of WeRateDogs (@dog_rates) or Thoughts of Dog (@dog_feelings) as examples. If you’re depressed, I urge you to spend a few minutes scrolling through these accounts to brighten your day — 15/10 would recommend (for those who understand the reference).

Indeed, from funny videos on Instagram to recipes and decorating ideas on Pinterest and beyond, there’s plenty of good to be had.

But, oh boy, are there a lot of negatives. I could talk about political views and fake news till I’m purple in the face, but the bigger concern is how social media has enabled anyone to say anything they want, no matter how hateful their digital barbs may be.

I can’t count how many times I’ve gone to public meetings or taken part in civil debates about contentious community issues, only to return home, open up Twitter or Facebook and read with frustrated bewilderment the nastiest of commentaries.

Simply put, social media has given people free reign to not be held accountable for their words. The notion of “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all” waved bye-bye long ago. Now, people can just hide behind a pseudonym — or worse, create fake accounts in order to spread hate.

Still, we as business professionals by now should be well seasoned to social media to know not to feed the trolls.

But that doesn’t stop the fact there are people who knowingly — or, stupidly, and I’m not sure what’s worse — use social media as a real-time platform for ill-informed commentary.

Horrible examples abound, of course, but let me focus on a more chuckle-worthy example from last week.

On Friday, news “broke” that a whole lot of people were thumbing their noses at country music icon Garth Brooks. The reason? A few days earlier, prior to performing a scheduled concert in Detroit, Brooks posted a photo on Instagram of himself donning a blue, gray and white No. 20 jersey with the last name “SANDERS” emblazoned on the back.

Incensed, thousands of people took to social media to denounce their once-beloved musician, blasting the singer of “Friends in Low Places” for his apparent endorsement of Democratic presidential nominee Bernie Sanders. They vowed never to listen to his music again, touting the tired “stay in your lane” decree to any celebrity who dares discuss politics.

The angry comments are posted all throughout social media, many of which are far too R-rated for me to publish here.

The problem? Brooks was wearing the jersey of NFL Hall Of Fame running back Barry Sanders, who once played for the Detroit Lions and went to college at Oklahoma State, Brooks’ alma mater. No, Brooks wasn’t making a political statement — he was simply doing what musicians do best when they’re on tour: playing up to the crowd.

But just like that, upon skimming social media and seeing a celebrity with a “Sanders” shirt, fury reigned, people jumped to conclusions, vitriol was spewed and a knee-jerk reaction from a bunch of jerks spread like wildfire.

While I chuckle at the ineptitude of people in situations like this, it really is a sad state of affairs at how ignorantly people can react on social media.

None of this is even to say just how much social media can impact a business or company. For example, I know a lot of prominent people who deliberately stay quiet on social media, especially when it comes to politics, for fear of retribution if people “found out” who they support.

The saying goes that “there’s no such thing as bad press,” correct? Well, there’s a reason that saying came about well before the advent of social media.

My view? Be as opinionated or witty as you dare on social media. Just remember — that free advertising comes at a price.

Kevin MacMillan is editor of the NNBW. Reach him for comment at kmacmillan@nevadanewsgroup.com


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