A Tech Company Reckons with Narrative-Borne Threats
It’s been a big few months for the tech industry. Between the Facebook antitrust headlines and recent deplatforming efforts, Big Tech has been under a microscope.
But it’s not just the big players making waves in the media – other technology companies have gotten a fair amount of attention as well. For an example of this, look no further than Dominion Voting Systems, which in the wake of Election 2020 found itself in the middle of a high-profile election fraud narrative, that spilled from the screen to the real world in some alarming ways.
In our recent Town Hall, Protecting Your Business from Disinformation and Other Narrative-Borne Threats, I explored the Dominion case as an example of how challenging it can be to squash a threatening narrative after it gains traction. Without the narrative awareness necessary to catch narratives before they spread too far, it can take a sustained, time-consuming response to get on top of them.
Dominion vs. Disinformation
The Dominion narrative is part of a web of election fraud narratives, promoted online and in other media, that quickly spread in the wake of the election. It bubbled up from online groups and eventually found the loudest microphone of all when Donald Trump tweeted that the company had deleted millions of votes, thus helping to throw the election.
This narrative quickly spread beyond online forums to have substantial real-world effects:
- Dominion employees faced harassment and threats as the narrative continued to circulate.
- The broader election fraud narrative has also led to election workers feeling threatened.
These effects show how, if you don’t get ahead of them, emerging narratives can quickly gain stream until they culminate in threats to the safety of a company’s employees and the general public.
To Dominion’s credit, the company acted quickly, putting out a statement unequivocally denying the allegation. But the narrative persisted. Whether the people promoting it were too influential, or the response wasn’t strong enough, or because it wasn’t caught early enough, the narrative never really went away. Dominion found itself in a months-long public messaging battle with highly-amplified voices alleging fraud. Only after the company brought a defamation lawsuit did the narrative finally die down.
There are two key lessons to draw from the Dominion example:
1. Whatever the case, act quickly
A threatening narrative might endure in the face of pushback, as it did for Dominion. Or it may dissipate after your first response. In the Town Hall, I also discuss a case in which Donald Trump insinuated he’d discussed a quid-pro-quo agreement with the CEO of Exxon. Exxon promptly pushed back against the claim, and in doing so, was able to take control of the narrative. The denial overtook the original narrative in the media, and the story quickly faded away.
There’s no sure way to know how quickly your counter-narrative will prove effective. But whether your case is more like Dominion’s or more like Exxon’s, acting fast is key. The sooner your response begins, the sooner it will start showing results. Though Dominion had to lean in for a while, the narratives about them might still be spreading rapidly today if they had delayed.
2. Be as proactive as possible
The best way to ensure you can respond as quickly as possible is to get ahead of narratives, and prevent them from taking off in the first place. Responding is step two – step one is monitoring. By leveraging narrative intelligence, you can build and maintain the narrative awareness necessary to detect narrative-borne threats before they become a problem. The more proactive you are, the less danger you’ll face of a narrative spreading beyond your control.
These best practices will help businesses get ahead of narrative-borne threats and maximize their effectiveness in pushing back. Check out the recording of the Town Hall for the full discussion, and keep your eyes peeled for our next Town Hall coming soon.