The furore created by the dragging from a United Airlines flight of Dr David Dao, a 69-year-old passenger, continues to rumble on, with the airline’s CEO, Oscar Munoz, due to testify at a House Transportation Committee Hearing on May 2.
The incident was a classic example of social media’s ability to amplify consumer outrage, as multiple videos were seen on internet platforms and news broadcasts all over the world. Then, in the wake of the airline’s poorly phrased response to the incident, a further anti-United backlash was unleashed. The financial cost to the company has been significant. If ever there was a crisis in management between an organization and its perception by the public, this was it.
But as the dust settles on social media, it’s worth looking at one aspect of the controversy in particular, one which, in the era of instant reactions and viral storms, shows that there are places online that do indeed have a long memory. You could call it the Reddit factor, and it can represent its own challenge to brands and organizations trying to manage crises or PR disasters.
While various videos of Dr Dao’s ordeal on April 9 continued to surface on social sites, adding fuel to the fire, on Reddit, people began posting about previous incidents related to United Airlines
Video links were being shared from 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017, highlighting such issues as poor treatment of customers and poor animal welfare.
From the incident occurring on the Sunday evening to Monday afternoon, the number of mentions on Reddit of United rose steadily to over double from the day before and stayed at a higher rate for the week..
By early afternoon on Monday, April 10, every entry in the “hot” and “rising” lists in /r/videos was populated with United-related videos. Significantly, it wasn’t just the April 9 incident on the “hot” and “rising” lists, but a rundown of United lowlights past and present, making Reddit, for a time, a one-stop shop for bad-news stories about United – as if the April 9 incident alone wasn’t bad enough, from the airline’s point of view.
This Reddit factor underlines the multifaceted nature of how controversies operate on social media, and, consequently, the difficulty faced by companies and organizations in maintaining control of the narrative and their own brand identity at a time of crisis.