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Laura Kessel is managing editor of The News-Herald in Willoughby. She writes a weekly column and shares her thoughts here.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Much worth watching in social media world

It’s easy to get lost in the world of social media.

For me, it’s because I spend a good deal of my day moving around in there.

There’s Facebook, which provides a constant stream of updates on a multitude of topics. I get news headlines, updates from friends and, yes, find out a lot of things about people I really don’t need to know. Some of that stuff even has photographic evidence.

Then, there’s Twitter, which does the same, without the photos.

But social media isn’t just for playtime anymore. Plenty of businesses — including The News-Herald — are using social media to get their message across.

You can find deals there, get your news there and, if you follow the right things, learn a little something, too.

Lately, I’ve been learning a lot about how to handle problems that crop up via social media.
This week alone, I’ve seen folks in various walks of life handling “issues” in a very new-fangled way.

First up is a columnist from the Philadelphia Daily News, calling out a press secretary for Mayor Michael A. Nutter for tweets from his account, accusing her of having an agenda in her writing of columns critical of the city’s Parking Authority.

Here’s the tweet that irked columnist Ronnie Polaneczky: “If reporter has let’s say 150 agency violations, do you disclose that as you time after time pound said agency with your commentary?”

Polaneczky’s response was something like this: Yes, she’s had parking tickets, but they’re all paid.

She went into detail about how she got just about every ticket she’s received, the fact that they’ve all been paid off, the fact that she deserved every single one of them and that she knows she’ll get more, because, as she said, “it’s the cost of living in the city.”

She went on to question how press secretary Mark McDonald knew she had received the tickets, as they’re supposed to be anonymous.

The day after her blistering column, Nutter issued an apology to Polaneczky, saying McDonald’s actions were “inappropriate.”

Then there’s Mayim Bialik, an actress who formerly starred in “Blossom” and who currently appears on “The Big Bang Theory.” I saw a link on Facebook to Bialik’s detailing on her blog a spat with Parenting magazine, which asked her a few months ago to write about an issue Bialik champions called “co-sleeping,” which involves parents and children sleeping in the same bed.

She wrote her piece, it appeared in the magazine, and then a couple months later, Parenting’s website asked in a web poll whether site users considered Bialik “nuts, normal or natural.”

Needless to say, she took issue: “Make up your mind, Parenting: are you a parenting magazine or just another corporate microphone contributing to the catty, judgmental, and homogenized notion of ‘normal’ many of us are finding does not match reality?”

Then there’s my favorite example of social media creeping into the mainstream — the aftermath of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Florida.

I’m not going to address the facts of the case — I’ll leave that to lawyers and the Florida judicial system.

What I will do is acknowledge shooter George Zimmerman’s legal team’s foray into social media in an attempt to stay on top of what they call rumors and falsehoods being spread about their client, the facts of the case and the victim.

Veteran attorney Mark O’Mara, who signed on to handle Zimmerman’s defense the day before the suspect turned himself in to face charges of second-degree murder in the Feb. 26 shooting of the unarmed Florida teen, has gone on the offensive online.

He set up a website, a Facebook page and a Twitter account to handle the intense interest in the case.

At, you’ll find periodic updates about topics of interest. This week, there was news that the firm had contracted with a former IRS agent who now works as a CPA to administer the legal defense fund that Zimmerman had set up. The defense team said it plans to start its own fund in Zimmerman’s name, and the ex-agent will be in charge of that, as well. O’Mara’s team said neither they nor Zimmerman will have direct access to the funds.

Another update there was that O’Mara responded to news that the lawyer for Martin’s parents had released information about a MySpace page owned by Zimmerman on which he made comments about other races and crimes he’d previously been accused of committing. O’Mara admitted that the page was owned by Zimmerman, but added that all parties involved in the case would be subject to discussion of social media use.

I think O’Mara is brilliant.

He knows you can’t ignore what’s going on everywhere — discussion of the case. And, as he said on the website, if you can’t beat ’em, lead ’em.

“It is now a critical part of presidential politics, it has been part of revolutions in the Middle East, and it’s going to be an unavoidable part of high-profile legal cases, just as traditional media has been and continues to be,” reads a manifesto called “Why social media for George Zimmerman” on “We feel it would be irresponsible to ignore the robust online conversation, and we feel equally as strong about establishing a professional, responsible and ethical approach to new media.”

I’m encouraged by O’Mara’s use of tools that are key to discussion of the issues in the modern world. My only concern is how much time he’s spending fending off rumors and accusations from the attorney for the Martin family, who isn’t part of the prosecution team.

But, as I’m writing this, Zimmerman hasn’t even been arraigned, so what else is there to do?

I hope O’Mara keeps the site going. And, honestly, if he does, I’ll continue to be lost in a world of social media.
Twitter: @Lauranh


Anonymous gn said...

I don't find it fascinating that an admitted killer is using social media to plant propaganda and raise money. I actually find it quite appalling. Were your child killed in this manner, I wonder if you'd find it as brilliant and wonderful that his killer would raise funds from people who write things such as "Please Donate To George Zimmerman! Trayvon Martin Was A Brutal Drug Dealer And Deserved To Die!" (actual tweet; one of many ugly and false statements from Zimmerman's donors and admirers). I wonder if you'd find it brilliant and wonderful if your child's killer posted inflammatory pics of racist graffiti on a website and raised money (actual story: Zimmerman's first web site contained an approving picture of a defaced black cultural studies center which had been spraypainted "long live Zimmerman"). Would it be brilliant and wonderful if that killer claimed poverty during a bail hearing yet had already spent $50k of those donations in less than a month? The lack of respect for Trayvon Martin as a human being who deserves dignity in death is something I'd expect from a murder defendant, but *not* from that defendant's counsel.

What this Zimmerman social media offensive represents is a breakdown in compassion, ethics and civility. I respectfully disagree with this essay.

May 5, 2012 at 8:35 AM 

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