Roseanne Barr has seen her TV show cancelled after making racist comments on Twitter. However, she isn’t the only person to see the consequences of social media controversy.
The big celebrity news of the last few weeks, besides the bizarre announcement that Donald Trump was meeting none other than Kim Kardashian to discuss prison reform – the less said about that, the better – has been the Roseanne Barr social media controversy. The outspoken US comedian and star of Roseanne has landed herself in hot water after tweeting out racist sentiment.
Barr used Twitter to make a comparison between Valerie Jarrett, an African-American former aide to President Obama, and the Planet of the Apes. Roseanne has plenty of history of tweeting out inflammatory messages – earlier that day she called prominent Jewish businessman George Soros a Nazi – but this was too overtly racist for ABC, the network that hosted her TV show.
ABC announced that Roseanne was cancelled, with its president Channing Dungey calling Barr’s tweet “abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values”. However, that is not the end of the saga. Amongst all of this are plenty of lessons about how to deal with controversy on social media, especially for big companies and famous personalities.
For example, while Ms Dungey and ABC were praised for not tolerating Barr’s racist comments, criticism has still come their way. First of all, Roseanne has been saying inflammatory, prejudiced things since long before her show was rebooted by ABC, so it’s hard to see how this recent development was unexpected.
The second criticism is that Ms Dungey’s statement did not actually mention racism, which many believe was a cop-out and gave Roseanne the opportunity to avoid apologising for those views. This was proved true, as her own apology tweet simply said she was sorry for insulting Valerie Jarrett’s looks.
She also blamed the fact that she was up at 2am and was “Ambien tweeting” for her outburst, which brings us to a company that has responded to the situation admirably. Sanofi, the company that manufactures Ambien, tweeted: “While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.”
This is an excellent response to a controversial situation, combining humour with a condemnation of what most people would hopefully agree is awful behaviour. There was no real reason for Sanofi to get involved – hopefully nobody actually thinks Ambien causes racism – but by doing so the company was able to restate their brand values in a funny way.
Is this child really yours?
Of course, Roseanne’s tweets were not the only social media controversy in recent weeks. An American mother flying with Southwest Airlines was recently told she needed to prove that her child – who is mixed-race – was hers by showing the airline employee a Facebook post with the two of them together.
Lindsay Gottlieb, the mother, believed this only happened because she is white and the father of the child is black, so she does not necessarily look the same race as her son. This situation has proved more difficult than Roseanne’s, with plenty of people falling on both sides of the argument.
On the one hand, Ms Gottlieb believes she would not have been asked such questions if it wasn’t for the fact her child is mixed-race, and many have criticised the employee in question. Southwest Airlines apologised, but simply stated its policy on the matter and did not really seem to admit fault.
a more tactful reply
However, model Chrissy Teigen weighed in. As someone who also has a mixed-race child – her husband John Legend is black and she has a father of Norwegian descent and a Thai mother – she has been through similar situations many times when flying.
She tweeted: “Airlines have asked this of me, too, with my daughter. Once I learned it’s a precaution for the very real threat of child trafficking, I stopped being exasperated with it. Now I’m kind of worried when they don’t ask.”
This was a good way of responding to the situation, as it was not phrased as a criticism. Chrissy Teigen was tweeting her own experiences in a manner that might have been helpful for Ms Gottlieb, as it shows her that she’s not alone, it’s not that unusual and it has a good reason behind it.
Being active on social media during a controversy is difficult, and it requires a good amount of tact. This article has shown some of the good and bad ways of responding to these situations, but the general rule should be to know exactly what your position is on an issue and to try to be as honest and forthcoming as possible.