Increasingly, it would appear, to protest an issue, get attention, elicit a response or ensure action one has to turn to the various social media platforms for satisfaction.
Organizations, corporations, businesses and even Governments pay attention more so now when a story goes viral on the internet rather than if they are tackled via the traditional method of writing letters or even emails.
Not many years ago, not getting satisfaction via official routes meant one would have to resort to protest action, placards if necessary and taking to traditional media if they were interested in airing your grouse.
Today, simply go to social media, put it on IG, Twitter and/or Facebook and instantly your story reaches millions across the globe. If the majority of those who the story reaches chooses to re-post, share and/or comment, then it has gone viral. And if the story affects someone or an organization and they are tagged in the post, then they are forced to pay attention and more than likely will be compelled to respond.
In our world today organizations, Governments, leaders and individuals are made or broken by such happenings on social media. It is indeed a powerful platform.
Businesses especially must take heed of the power of this medium. Often in my work when I have to deal with a disgruntled customer, the first reaction from the client is “you and your business will be posted on my social media.” Ignoring this reality can be to your peril. And as a business person, learning to navigate away from this form of protest will require skill sets. But even major corporations don’t get it right and learn the hard way.
And while it is a platform that can be abused for the wrong reasons, it has certainly empowered the average person to seek redress in a world that has favored the more endowed over the less endowed. Not that long ago, we would have witnessed a person or a few persons standing outside a business place or organization protesting with a placard or banner. If the traditional media chose to cover the protest, then you had some exposure, but overall, not with the same damaging effect as a post that has gone viral.
I have come to witness the power of social media in such circumstances in recent weeks and can attest to its potency in getting the people who matter to pay attention.
Just last week, a story went viral of a woman flying on an American carrier from one US city to another. Wendi Williams, who said she’s a teacher in Virginia Beach, tweeted footage of a man repeatedly hitting the back of her reclined seat with his fist during an American Airlines flight on January 31. In interviews after her story went viral she said she was so aggrieved by the response of the Airlines to her plight that she felt it was necessary to take her protest public via her Twitter account. Her tweet said: “I’m done being quiet!” “My name is Wendi Williams. It was flight AA4393, from New Orleans to Charlotte, seat 20D. You clearly want me to do this quietly through a DM.”
Those tweets along with the video that she took of the man punching her seat went viral and around the world thousands of people were commenting and sharing the story. The Airlines had to take notice and respond.
Her story further incensed people by the manner she reported she was dealt with by the air hostess. CNN reports her story: “She said she tried to alert a flight attendant as soon as the punching started. But the employee ‘rolled her eyes’ at Williams and offered the man she accused of hitting her seat some complimentary rum, Williams tweeted. After that, the flight attendant handed her a stern form letter, titled ‘Passenger Disturbance Notice.’”
“Notice: YOUR BEHAVIOR MAY BE IN VIOLATION OF FEDERAL LAW,” the letter reads. “You should immediately cease if you wish to avoid prosecution and your removal from this aircraft at the next point of arrival.”
This story which has gone viral has sparked a wider debate of reclining seats on aircrafts, space allocations and passenger’s rights.
Coincidentally, exactly one day after Ms Williams’ encounter on that American airline, my eldest daughter had a very similar occurrence on her flight back to Barbados from London. Like Ms Williams, she attempted to recline her seat only to feel a hard shove of her seat by her back. Not sure what to make of it, she enquired of a stewardess if she was allowed to recline her seat and was given the assurance that it was her right to do so. After meals and the tables were cleared, she once again attempted to recline her seat and was once again met with resistance from the British man seated immediately behind who shoved the seat and aggressively remarked not to invade his space. When my daughter explained to him that all passengers were entitled to recline their seats, he slapped her three times on her head. In shock she called a stewardess to report what had happened while the man was telling her to shut up and sit down. Sadly, the stewardess did not, at any point, seek to address the issue of an assault and instead asked my daughter to calm down and move to another seat.
My daughter’s subsequent attempts to have the airline properly investigate and deal with the matter proved futile, with only an apology for a bad experience and a gift basket sent to a UK address.
Like Ms Williams, my daughter was frustrated with the manner in which the airline chose to respond and ignore the fact of an assault. She too went to social media via Facebook and in a matter of hours after her story spread and persons were tagging the airline in frustration and anger, the airline chose to respond not once but twice, promising a senior person will call. That senior person did call, and the matter is ongoing.
That is the nature of business today. Major corporations will ignore you if, in their mind, you are being a nuisance for seeking redress. But not letting them get away is important. As Ms Williams and my daughter did, call them out publicly if they don’t wish to rectify the situation privately. The social media platforms certainly give you the opportunity to get your protest out there and have it shared widely.
Just be telling the truth. There is too much fake news out there. Importantly, these incidents lead us all to prepare ourselves for such experiences and how to respond. The power of recording also cannot be overstated. Ms Williams had it recorded, and that was enough proof. Unfortunately, my daughter didn’t think to video what transpired. Lessons for us all.
Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace; Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association; Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI and a Childhood Obesity Prevention Champion. Email: [email protected]