Earlier this month, there was a (false) rumor going around about actor Patrick Swayze dying. It apparently originated from a radio station and zipped around on social media platforms, most visibly on Twitter.
Swayze’s people responded relatively quickly, but as we’ve seen again and again, rebuttals, corrections and debunkings have a harder time making the rounds. Rumors are hot, and corrections are cold (I’m appropriating McLuhan’s terminology, but it sorta fits here). Plus, people move on pretty quickly, especially if they only have a superficial relationship to the subject at hand.
Twitter is our whipping boy here, though the rumor birth-to-death cycle seems pretty consistent no matter what the mode of communication, from the literal word-of-mouth, to fax lore, chain letters, e-mails, etc. (though Twitter and other modern communications methods accelerate and compress the timeframe, as well as broaden the audience reach.)
What could have Swayze’s people have done to avoid this? For any given person, posting regular updates explictly saying “I’m not dead” is pretty superfluous, even ridiculous — our regular activity performs this function, so we just have to make sure it’s visible to others.
Swayze’s case is a little different, in that his death has been a front-of-mind possibility ever since he announced his battle with cancer. Still, it’d be a little… morbid? to explicitly announce “I’m still alive” at regular intervals. Sure, a publicist could push out daily press releases, but regular folks wouldn’t see them, and no one believes publicists anyway. Whereas posting to Twitter or other social status sharing sites would do the same thing, in a much more natural fashion.
(I would be remiss if I failed to note the Abe Vigoda status technique, though I think it’s a singular case that’s not really tranferable to other people. Though there’s always the Dead People Server for those kinds of status updates. Also, Francisco Franco is still dead.)
Actually, now that I think about it, I see I’ve visited this theme before, “Participation Is Presence: When You Don’t Post, You Don’t Exist,” though I didn’t mean it so literally back then.
Looking at the issue in the larger context of rumor control (which I’ll be revisiting more as we get closer to June’s Crisis Camp), we go back to the usual aphorisms of nature ahboring vacuums and conversations going on whether you’re aware of them or not, and so forth.
More importantly, though, by participating in the conversation, you still can’t control it, but you can at least take the initiative, so you’re not always reacting all the time, and where at least some of the conversation starts on your terms. And of course, participation lays out the framework for those conversational channels that you can use when you actually need them.
Are there any other lessons we should (or shouldn’t) draw from the Swayze case? Please leave a comment.Google+