The Risks of Brands Posting on Social Media on 9/11

Why Brands Should Post on Social Media on 9/11

Whether it’s sharing an image from the Tribute in Light art installation or retweeting a commemorative message, your agency should post something on September 11. This post should outrank any other posts you might make that day.

It’s important for students to understand the history of this event. They may have questions, and the web can help them find the answers.

How would it have been different?

As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, Americans remain incredibly emotional about what happened that day. Whether they lost loved ones, were evacuated from the city or watched the events unfold on television, Americans have profound memories and feelings of loss and grief.

When asked in open-ended questions about the most important event that had occurred to them personally over the past year, more Americans volunteered 9/11 than any other personal life event. This was especially true in New York and Washington, DC, where people had first-hand experience of the terrorist attacks.

It is not surprising, then, that so many brands feel compelled to remember 9/11 on social media. However, it can be dangerous for a brand to make this kind of statement, and it is important to understand why before taking action.

What would have happened?

When brands take a stand on 9/11 or any solemn occasion, they must consider carefully the risks of saying the wrong thing. The misstep can lead to anger, scorn and ridicule — even real-life acts of violence.

The Web sites of government agencies and religious, educational, and personal organizations quickly adapted to the events of September 11, offering structures for individuals to obtain information, share their reactions, find ways to provide assistance and convey their policy preferences to government bodies. These sites also helped to frame the issues that framed the tragedy, such as the historical roots of terrorism and the broader debate over war and peace in a world far away.

What we now know is that today’s digital echo chambers have made it much harder to define, address and heal from the tragic events of September 11. Many worry that current technology is promoting division and polarization rather than building bridges and enabling constructive civic discourse.

What could have been done?

The world changed in ways neither of us could have anticipated on Sept. 11, 2001. Substantial alterations in news transmission, technology innovation, disaster preparedness, telecommunications networks and personal privacy took place after the terrorist attacks. Government Web sites retooled rapidly to enable individuals to provide tips in the investigation of the terrorist attacks and to help them find means to obtain assistance. Religious, educational and personal Web sites grew in importance as clearinghouses for people to communicate their reactions and convey policy preferences to government bodies.

The bipartisan 9/11 commission pointed to a number of intelligence failures and the government’s inability to grasp the threat of terrorist attacks. These problems have not gone away. Terrorist groups now have unprecedented access to Americans online and encourage sympathizers to conduct simple attacks or travel abroad to join the fight in ISIS-held territory in Iraq and Syria. The polarized political climate has made it hard to build a national consensus for counterterrorism efforts.

What can be done?

As the events of September 11 recede into history, many people and brands will choose to remember that day. But there is a delicate balance to be struck between remembering and posting on social media. The wrong thing can cause a great deal of harm and alienate consumers.

Unlike past terrorist attacks that required extensive communications and planning, terrorism now moves at the speed of social media. Foreign terrorists spread propaganda online to inspire lone actors to carry out attacks at home or to travel abroad and join the group.

Government Web sites retooled quickly to allow individuals to provide tips in terrorism investigations and to help find ways to assist victims of the attacks. But few of these sites enabled political advocacy or the ability for individuals to communicate their policy preferences directly to government bodies.

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