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WHEN DISASTER STRIKES: DON’T EXPLOIT TRAGEDIES

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The news recently has been a steady drumbeat of disaster and tragedy. From the flooding in Colorado to the mass shootings in Washington DC, these events create a torrent of reaction from regular citizens, elected officials, and aspiring candidates. Ultimately, those in the public eye must react in a measured and respectful way in order to avoid the perception that they are exploiting a tragedy for political gain.

Just a few months ago, the Boston Marathon bombings shocked the nation as a series of dramatic events unfolded over the course of several days. Some were quick to draw conclusions based on unclear facts about the potential suspects, claiming that is was the work of “angry Muslims” or “radicalized Americans.” In this type of situation, those outside of the state of Massachusetts would be wise to withhold such snap judgments and instead offer a more prudent response. A sample tweet could read “Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Boston.” Keep it minimal and heartfelt.

When natural disasters strike locally, candidates can use social media as platform for a sharing necessary information, such as “Here is the link to the database of missing persons,” or “Here is how to donate to the Red Cross to assist in their relief efforts.” Rather than using social media as a megaphone to broadcast their stances on nuanced and complex issues such as climate change and international terrorism, candidates and elected officials alike would be wise to withhold judgment and resist the temptation to grandstand until more facts about an unfolding story come to light.

After the Aurora, CO movie theater shooting, before the bodies had even been removed, politicians on both sides were screaming about gun control. A tragedy is not the appropriate time to play politics. It makes you look bad to be seen as exploiting a tragedy. If you were in Colorado it might also be appropriate to tweet about donations to the victims, current road closures, updates from EMS officials. If however, you lived in a different state, the only appropriate response is a short statement or tweet “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of this horrible attack. We must come together as a nation to ensure tragedies like this never happen again.”

When disaster strikes, remember to stay respectful and react smart. While rash judgments and offensive language will excite a small minority, they will not serve the greater public interest and could only result in lasting damage to your public image.