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Communications in the era of mass violence, fake news and trolls

Today is our normal posting day, but nothing about this day is normal. Twenty-four hours ago, the US awoke once again to reports of a mass tragedy. As a professional communicator, I feel utterly at a loss for words that will truly comfort and heal the pain. My heart is heavy with grief for those who must plan funerals for friends and family who set out to enjoy a day of entertainment. The first-hand reports from survivors have been heart-wrenching and the acts of first responders and citizens are to be applauded.

This is not the time nor platform to debate the reasons for it all. But, it is an eye-opening reality that our roles as communication consultants must acknowledge the angry, far too often violent world that we now inhabit. This calls for us to plan for crises internal and external to clients with a renewed vigor. We now have a wealth of experience that supports “what if” frequently becomes “when”.

The core job of communications professionals has largely remained unchanged.The tools, technology, and platforms have changed, but the human issues have not. However, there are unique complexities in today’s age of mass violence, fake news and trolls. The latest massacre in Las Vegas once again brings these issues to the forefront and reminds us of all the bases we must cover in our roles.

Crisis communications plans should be thoroughly reviewed and tested. While you may have a number of scenarios in a robust plan, we now must consider terrorism, and violence in and outside of the workplace, along with cyber attacks and all the potential land mines inherent to social media.

We must be prepared to counsel clients on how to handle direct crises and how and if to respond to the crises that happen around them. Sadly, either choice also requires a preparedness to manage the dissenters of either decision quickly and with the minimal public fallout.

Corporate citizenry has become far more than service and giving back in communities. Today, corporations are expected to not only take part but take the lead on issues that impact those they serve. These burdens lay heavily upon the communications professionals tasked with defining and sustaining brand identities and messaging.

It is a new day. The job is not easy and not for the faint of heart.

In the midst of it all, our profession is also unfairly cast into the spotlight for failures due to systemic issues that began long before they were public. We are not always at the table to proactively address these issues (a topic for another day) but always judged on how a crisis plays out.

But today is a very real human tragedy and we mourn with the nation. Let us use the power of our platform to spread messages of hope. Let us staunchly defend truth and guard against the spread of false or misleading information. The job is hard, but harder still is living in these times.

Image by Bill Debevc [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons