It was only a matter of time before something like this would happen. Social media in the hands of most people is harmless. A marketing agency in New South Wales, Australia is about to enter the pantheon of social media for an ‘experiment’ it conducted. Of course, most who reach this status are put there for their contribution to moving the medium forward. The agency, Mentally Friendly (Mentally Absent might be more apropos) is being immortalized, however, for all the wrong reasons.
Over at cnet’s Technically Incorrect column we are given an outline of the activity of this group
Mentally Friendly (because mental friends really are the best) decided to set up a Twitter account in the name of the New South Wales police. Which was an interesting thing to do, save for the fact that an increasingly large number of people thought it really was written by the New South Wales police.
Well, it did feature the real police shield.
I am still scratching my head on this one. Of course, taking someone’s social media handle is not illegal. It may be immoral and unethical, but it’s not illegal. Impersonating a police officer, however, is a very serious offense. So what happens when someone (or in this case some company) impersonates an entire police force?
The New South Wales police decided to investigate this Twitter page. According to the Australian ABC News, the police contacted Twitter to ask about its impersonation policy. Which prompted Mentally Friendly to reveal itself in a blog post on the company’s site.
The company explained it “wondered what the social reaction would be if a law enforcement agency or figure of authority joined the conversation.” And it discovered that “users responded positively to the concept of an authorities (sic) presence in social media.”
One has to figure that a lot of people think about a lot of things that are interesting in their private thought world but these thoughts are not anything that should ever be acted on. I wonder what would happen if I let my 12 year daughter take our car out for a spin (which is bizarre I know so just be happy you don’t have to live with me). While it would be pretty darn interesting, I gotta believe that I would never act on it.
OK, so no one was hurt here, right? That may just have been luck. What were these people thinking? Why weren’t they thinking?
As marketers we assume responsibility. As much fun as it might be to put together some social experiments using the tools that are easily accessed by all, it doesn’t mean that you check your brains and common sense at the door. Words are powerful. We are seeing the evidence of this simple fact more and more every day as we open more and more avenues of communication. What can look innocent could turn into a nightmare very quickly. Marketers have to think things through regardless, even if they get a strong case of the “what would happen if’s”.
So what happened to these geniuses? Nothing really.
Still, it appears that the New South Wales police, once they discovered what was going on, decided simply to confiscate the site and use it themselves.
On May 20th, the site tweeted: “All tweets prior to today were not official NSW Police messages. Go to www.police.gov.nsw.au for our latest media releases in full.”
Perhaps, therefore, it is unsurprising that Mentally Friendly added in its blog post: “Big thanks to the NSW Police Force for having an outstanding sense of humor.”
It’s tempting to shrug this one off as a case of severe stupidity but it serves rather as more evidence that while social media has unimaginable upside it can also create unimaginable trouble when put in the wrong hands or just used irresponsibly. Am I the only one that sees it this way?