Social Media as Judge and Jury

Yesterday a large gym franchise was forced to take down a social media post and apologise for it. It was a motivational quote by Woody Allen which the group was concerned would cause offence to some because of his recent position in the news. This has sparked two debates for me.
1. Has social media become judge, jury and executioner for brands and celebrities?
2. (to paraphrase Nick Hornby) Should we penalise a great artist and their works for their latter day sins?

Please note – in this blog I am not commenting on the truth or falsity of the recent claims against Woody Allen – just on the media surrounding it. I am not being flippant about the accusations either, merely about people’s reactions to them.

Firstly, in case you’ve missed the story, the recent accusation against the director was made in an open letter by his adopted daughter. Once upon a time these letters would have been reserved for a newspaper but it was published on a blog, creating a very public and loud debate that the printed word just cannot match.

This is not the first time the accusations have been levied against Mr. Allen. They were brought against him in court where experts at that time decided that his daughter had not been molested. According to the BBC:

“a thorough investigation was conducted by court-appointed independent experts” when the allegations were first made.

“The experts concluded there was no credible evidence of molestation; that Dylan Farrow had an inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality; and that Dylan Farrow had likely been coached by her mother Mia Farrow,”

So, at the time a panel of psychologists, appointed by US prosecutors and the police, concluded that his daughter had not been molested. But, after Dylan’s recent detailed and emotional confession, the world of social media is spilling over with Tweets, posts and pins about how evil and predatory the director is. In court, he was proven innocent, but after a blog post, when the world is effectively invited to comment and provide their opinion, he is overwhelmingly guilty. Social Media becomes the new judge, not just for celebrities, but for everyone in the public eye.

People have always had their opinions, and even ten years ago, before Facebook and Twitter appeared, they were afforded the opportunity to comment via phone in shows, and even on news articles online. The difference is that the relative anonymity of social media (when you’re one voice among millions) allows for a much more vehement opinion to be expressed. It’s just as dangerous for brands out there, and fast, calculated responses to bad press are so important. Just because these channels are seen as ‘fun’, they can bring a brand to their knees. Consider Yahoo coming off worse than Google when GMail went down. Be careful how you treat the Behemoth that is Twitter.

My other thought – if Mr. Allen is guilty, does that mean I can’t like Annie Hall anymore? As a drama and film student I was able to watch it for credit, and then sit in an over-priced coffee shop, discussing at length the removal of the ‘fourth wall’.  If he turns out to be guilty, do I get rid of his films from my collection? Or can I just no longer quote him on Facebook?

Where is the line drawn? After Wesley Snipes was jailed for tax evasion, should I have thrown away my Blade trilogy? Or is it just for truly heinous crimes that we should revoke our respect for the art the person created?

Apologies for the frivolous analogy. I don’t have an answer for this. The etiquette handbook is yet to publish a chapter on social media and polite society. I’m genuinely asking for opinions on this, so let me know what you think.