Maxim Behar: Social media has made the world better and more understandable, don't be afraid of it!September, 2023
- Mr. Behar, are the harshest opinions being handed out today not in the courts but on social media?
Naturally, social media cannot pass opinions. On the contrary - in the last few cases, it is they who have served to inform the public about who thinks what, what they have done and what they think about what they have done.
You see, the glass has indeed overflowed. A huge number of people are parading on social media.
They think that anything goes,
that they can write and say whatever they want, tell bits of stories, even make them up, and in doing so have a frantic fight for more likes and shares. And to become "famous"! Well, we've seen some of them achieve it successfully. And it's not just a Bulgarian patent, but we feel strongly about it here because we know these people, we follow them, and many young people are trying to look like them too.
Naturally, these people are an exception, but
the scandals of recent weeks have clearly served as
a harsh lesson to everyone who touches a keyboard and a camera, to teach them that they need to think about their words when speaking or writing in public.
Social media has a very strong and very positive influence on societies, it is increasingly successful in serving as a platform on which opinions, assessments, quite often extreme and as of 'last resort', are shared... I think this is normal.
We are in a media transition that I call a revolution, but this concept was addressed in one of my recent books published in the US.
There are billions of people in the world and millions of people who
suddenly found themselves with access to sharing media content in their hands
- mainly Facebook, as a platform for more detailed sharing of opinions and heated arguments, but also Instagram, Tik-Tok and Twitter, and most of them just didn't know what to do with them.
After all, at least in Bulgaria, the main place for aggression, love, like and hate remains Facebook... There you can write longer, share, and argue easier, illustrate with photos... But let's not forget the main difference between the so-called traditional media and social. Traditional media is written only, or mainly by journalists, people who know well how to check the credibility of an information and rarely impose their opinion, when they comment they do it with arguments.
We must understand that social media is mostly dominated by amateurs who suddenly have an audience of millions in front of them and in seconds want to prove how their opinion is the most authoritative and the most correct... Or in other words - they think that
it is the last resort.
And because some of them have huge followings, it often feels like a verdict, because after a while, whatever any court rules, all those writings are history, and even the most superficial Google search, for example, will bring them up front. But in practice, with all its pros and cons, all its discussions, love and hate, social media brings us a lot of interesting information every day and has undeniably made us much better and more knowledgeable people. Remember - knowledgeable!
- Ionislav Yotov - Toto was literally crucified and lynched online for a day because of his uncritical attitude and laughter towards Titi Papazov's story. In his podcast a while ago, the basketball coach recounted how he had cut his ex-girlfriend's hair, but this excerpt was pulled again in the days when the web is boiling over the horrific case of abuse of the 18-year-old girl from Stara Zagora. Papazov has also been inundated by a wave of criticism, but the big hatred seems to have "cut off" the presenter's head. There are now calls for Toto to cease his activities with this podcast and as an influencer, and for his advertisers to disassociate themselves from him. Is there any chance Toto can rehabilitate himself? Will people forget this sucker of his?
It's not so important what and how they write about you, none of us can control millions of people, each with their own opinions, sentiments, and knowledge. What is important, however, is how you explain, how you respond, how you defend yourself, when necessary, whether you do it pro-actively or pro-forma, whether you have the strength and knowledge, even the intellect, to handle such situations. And even more important is
before appearing in public, everyone should measure their words
when speaking in front of an audience of millions, and not counting on gaining likes or speaking platitudes to make them very influential.
We all need to learn how and what we speak, write, look like... literally like first graders.
Nowadays, really, anyone can write anything and against anyone. We must understand this truth and not only be ready to accept it, but also be well prepared to react. I don't follow the podcast you mentioned, but everyone has a chance to vindicate themselves if they step on the truth, and only there. In the end
social media is not to blame
for whether someone did something...
Social media is just media, a platform! The root cause is what we do, what we say, social media is just the one spreading it. When they are successful and praised, people like social media, when they criticize it, they say it's terrible. Social media is not to blame, it's those who do things that get criticized for those very media.
However, everyone is entitled to protection and vindication. If someone has made a mistake, they will apologize, they will "sprinkle ashes on their head", they will be careful not to make any more mistakes... Just because advertisers have backed away from the podcast host and terminated their contracts with him doesn't mean the world has ended. We have a great example of this in Bulgaria recently - super many
notorious case of the famous chef Andre Tokev.
Remember how he came out of a very difficult and almost - seemingly - impossible situation. All the media, social and traditional, was against him... I think this is a good example of how to react - with honor, integrity, and taking responsibility - not only for Bulgaria. If the Toto in question wants to start this business over, he needs to show with his podcasts that he has learned his lesson. If not - wide world, many opportunities.
- What does crisis PR require in such a situation? What should he have done in the first hours to come clean?
I often say that in cases like this, the worst decision is better than no decision. The most important factor is a lightning reaction. If we lose even five minutes, they can be fatal.
Truth must be told, arguments must be argued, quick decisions must be made before the avalanche of hate descends on you.
In my opinion, each one of us should know better than to write a single word in any social media discussion, and they should necessarily anticipate what the reaction will be. This requires
minimum thinking and maximum preparation.
If you're arguing with one person next to you, or in company, you can still pretty much predict the reaction, at least because you know who they are, and you look them in the eye. On social media, you can't and won't know those, say tens of thousands of people who will read what you write, how they will react. One is happy and positive, another is not. A third may already be on his fifth brandy, a fourth may be travelling and have no time to reflect properly, a fifth will not have understood what you have written at all and will react to the first signal...
Remember - every word on social media should be
measured, reasonable, verified
and only then can we be pretty sure that we will be understood.
And once again - we should always try to anticipate what the reaction will be and be ready with arguments so we can defend our position. Every crisis is ultimately better resolved if we have good advance preparation and a quick reaction. These are the two factors without which we run the risk of getting into disputes, arguments and discussions without much positive effect and creating a toxic environment.
- Was it a mistake that his own wife, Christine, tried to defend him by attacking and insulting his critics in a lengthy post, calling them "freaks" and in turn was viciously attacked on the web?
I think the one who has been offended should always be held accountable. Especially since, as far as I understand, it is a journalist. If he is a seasoned professional, he will always find a way to explain his reactions or words.
Never and under no circumstances
there should be attacks or insults in our responses, no matter how deeply emotionally "provoked" we may be. But really, never! This way of reacting will do no other work than to ignite even more violent reactions and a new series of attacks... It is up to us to calm the passions, to bring a normal and positive tone to the communication and, if we want to get our point across, to use as convincing arguments as possible.
- Are our so-called influencers participating in a game whose rules are not fully regulated and can you end up losing or winning completely unexpectedly?
Our, as you say, so-called influencers are starting to perform better and better and some of them do have good followings people who believe in them. After all this whole business, it is no doubt a business, "sells" nothing but... trust. It's not merchandise, it's not the so-called notorious opening of shipments,
not busts and beautiful legs... but trust.
Everything else after that is secondary, if there is no trust, nothing will happen.
There are two important points in this business. The influencer must have an impeccable reputation and really build trust with their followers by being upfront and honest with them. And second, it is also extremely important that whenever they promote products, they mention that it is for a fee so that the audience can draw their own conclusions. The moment he receives even one lev from the manufacturer or importer of the product, he has already lost his independence. There is no problem with that, but the reader or viewer should know that nothing more. If these rules are followed, I see no reason why anyone should not be able to profit on social media on the strength of their presence and their skills.
- How important is it for a person to measure not only every action, but also every word when they want to profit from social networks or being a popular face?
Well... the most important thing is. Maybe not the only thing, but every word, every comma can even build a positive brand, it can also bring it down. The latter usually happens in seconds. It's a famous maxim that should never be forgotten - you can build a good image for 20 years that
you can easily lose in 20 seconds.
It is valid in the modern times we live in, and it will always be so in the future. If we don't remember this, our very presence on social media becomes meaningless.
- Vanja Jafferovic was also targeted, but with his comment taken out of context. Namely, that he spoke ill of the girl who was the victim of brutal violence in Stara Zagora. The comment, which was not about her, was screenshot, cropped and circulated everywhere, he explained himself. Is it possible that such a situation, which has nothing to do with the reality of the case and Jafferovic's conscious actions, could irreversibly damage the image?
- In social media, any situation is possible. If we disagree with it, have been misled, misquoted, misunderstood even, there should be a lightning and well-reasoned reaction.
Public people around the world have many friends, but they also have enemies. The social media technique allows these enemies, foes, or just people who enjoy harming others, to do whatever they want and however they want with your posted words, even making up words on your behalf. Well...
as we should obey traffic signs,
when we're driving, right? Just like social media has standards and "signs" and risks that we must comply with. That's why - every word needs to be measured and written in such a way that even if it's "taken out of context", it's understood very quickly by readers.
- By what laws is the collective consciousness guided on the web, and is it dangerous how easily and quickly it can elevate heroes and send people to the bottom? Sometimes it happens to the same person. (Gen. Mutafchiski during the pandemic)
Gen. Mutafchiski was not sent to the bottom at all, may he be alive and well, he is doing his job and is a very respected professional. During the pandemic he handled himself perfectly and quite deservedly was a "star", I believe many of his remarks and responses to questions will go down in the history of modern crisis communications.
And yet, his emergence was not the product of a collective consciousness on the web, but of an emergency the likes of which the world had never seen in history, and hopefully will never see again. But this is quite normal - often
circumstances make great heroes out of ordinary people,
if they can do well. There have been thousands of such cases in recent years. Especially since the launch of the MeToo movement. People we have idolized as influencers are being crucified, hauled off to courts, some of them as it turns out, I'm referring to Kevin Spacey, without an ounce of guilt... Every time has its unique manifestations, social media these days is undoubtedly one of them. They make some people "stars" in a matter of hours, and easily consign others to the dustbin of history, rightly or wrongly. This has always happened in history, but now social media is enabling it to happen in a flash and quite often unfairly.
- In the case of the security guard Georgi Georgiev from Stara Zagora, social media contributed to the publicity of the case, and the public anger that unleashed his act has a serious impact on the examination of the crime by the responsible authorities, otherwise it could have passed by the way and the victim to remain unheard. Will the impact of 'social sentencing' deepen in reality?
In fact, this is the great positive power of social media. They have made societies much more transparent, control over institutions, over people in general, much more effective, and I see only good things in that.
This case could have probably stayed in some folders somewhere in government if it hadn't been
the incredible power of public opinion,
expressed primarily on social media. So, injustices very quickly become apparent, and societies are much more able to fight them. These are not judgments, social media is a place for sharing opinions, they often sound like judgments, but in practice they are not. We must take them as opinions, even sometimes quite extreme ones, and if we disagree argue with them.
- Useful and harmful - is the ratio 50/50 so far? Or...?
In my opinion - 100 percent useful, if we are going to measure the ratio in percentages. Social media has made the world a better and much more understandable place. They have removed borders between countries, language barriers, but many others as well. Let me make a comparison.
More than a century ago, Henry Ford
first introduced the prototype of the modern automobile, the so-called petrol carriage. Back then, every single person present at the luxurious event for its years was amazed and naturally very to what they saw. Of course, they made their arguments comparing it to the most common means of transportation at the time, horse-drawn carriages. And they were constantly asking - but why do we have to put petrol in, what if we get a flat tire, what if the engine breaks down, what if the brakes fail... what if we run over a person. And then one of the journalists loudly shouts, "No, no and no. The risks are too great, this has no future...". But today we all drive cars, not carts, don't we? We drive them with all their risks, inconveniences, and costs, but also with all the rules and standards we have created for them.
Here, social media is something similar. They have their risks, but also their undeniable advantages, of which I will highlight only two. These are the first interactive media in history - if someone writes something, you can immediately reply to them, argue with them in public, delete or correct your opinion, block your interlocutor even... This is not possible in print, on TV or radio stations. That's why I think it's a unique advantage -
whole societies, billions of people talking to each other without a mediator
and in the end, we are all richer in knowledge, opinions, and arguments. The second advantage is that it's a measurable media, and with great accuracy. At any given moment we can tell how many people have seen or responded to a post of ours, where those people live, how old they are, what their preferences are... No other media could provide us with this until recently.
Naturally, these media have their shortcomings, and the main one is that they are now written by people who are overwhelmingly amateurs in writing, and under the influence of unknown emotions or moods. But didn't only people with driving licenses drive cars more than 100 years ago...! The companies that created and now run social media, and societies, will learn to control it even more effectively, is to not allow sexism, antisemitism, coarse language, and aggressive attacks on it... And it won't take long, rest assured, modern media is evolving at the speed of light.
- Will the fear of social media grow? Of stepping on crooked toes and even taking a clear stand on socially significant issues that might "cut off" someone's head?
- I think the fear, if anyone still has it, will diminish over time because we will become more experienced, more confident, and more reasoned. Let me put it this way - all of us on social media are trying to build a brand.
And we often forget the golden definition of what a brand is - what people say to you when you're not in the room.
Social media helps us to be much more aware of ourselves, we shouldn't necessarily take criticism of us as words of hate, we should first think about whether those particular words were written for a reason and if so - say thank you and shut up, if not - argue and prove it. We need to build and defend our brand and social media gives us a great chance to do that freely without depending on anyone.
Maxim Behar is a world-renowned PR professional, the only expert from Eastern Europe inducted into the World PR Hall of Fame in London. He is the President of the World Communications Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Behar was born in Shumen, in 2005 he was named an honorary citizen of his hometown. He studied international economics at the University of Economics in Prague, Czech Republic, and leadership skills at the Harvard Kennedy School, as well as a course with legendary coach Lou Tice at the Pacific Institute in Seattle, USA. He is now a PhD student at the Sofia University "Kliment Ohridski". Maxim is a member of the Board of Trustees of UNNS in Sofia, recently elected to the Board of one of the largest European Universities - Engage.EU. Maxim Behar's book "The Global PR Revolution", published in 2018 first in the USA by AllWorth Press was nominated and continues to be among the top three in Book Authority's ranking of the "100 Best PR Books of All Time."
The interview was published in "24 hours"