Why would the editors of Rolling Stone devote a cover to Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev? Who knows. They probably thought they had a really interesting story that would certainly turn some heads, but they probably weren’t expecting a full-scale revolt online and on social media.
I wrote earlier on my Facebook page that I wouldn’t want to be Rolling Stone’s social media editor today. Or tomorrow. Or anytime soon. Judging by the comments there and on the Chicago Tribune’s social media platforms that I manage, this is a topic that’s very raw in Chicago, Boston and around the world.
Why the backlash? I don’t know, but I think it has to do with time. I’m really fond of saying “too soon,” and I think that applies here. Portraying this guy so big in a space that’s usually reserved for our best singers and celebrities was like pouring salt and cayenne pepper on a still open wound. And while Rolling Stone has put controversial people on its cover before – such as Charles Manson in 1970 – social media didn’t exist then. Can you imagine if we had Twitter in 1970? We’d have a lot of tie-dyed backgrounds, lava lamps and people dressed in avocado suits, but I digress.
From a purely social media standpoint, Rolling Stone could have done better. While the comments were overwhelmingly negative, the magazine just chose to let people have their say and not respond. I disagree with that method. And they posted a lot of extra fluffy posts on Facebook in what was most certainly an attempt to push the earlier posts down the page. This was a very blatant and lazy attempt to supress all the curse words and angry punctuation. Problem is, people by the hundreds slammed the comments of those unrelated stories. Some even posted lists of the dead and injured. Rolling Stone said it’s standing by its story, but this is a day they won’t soon forget. I bet their afternoon staff meeting was a real treat.
But like any other social media firestorm, this will subside. The people who swear they’ll never read or support Rolling Stone again will. And the magazine will learn a little bit about taking big risks while reveling in the afterglow of attention.
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