How do you handle lies and rumors about your organization? Do you have a strategy when gossip appears in the blogosphere? What do you do when rumors circulate about layoffs or about the CEO having an affair?
Rumors have always been around. But in the age of social media, they have become far more pernicious. A tiny bit of gossip can begin as a spark on an unknown blog and spread within hours to the mainstream media, creating a public relations wildfire that can do real damage to your organization or client.
In politics, the rumor and lying mill has destroyed candidacies. During his first presidential race, allies of President Bush spread rumors that John McCain had fathered an illegitimate black child---a lie that some believe cost McCain the important South Carolina primary.
Now comes the rumor that Michelle Obama once used the word "whitey" to disparage Obama's critics during the Jeremy Wright controversy. Rather than ignore these rumors, Obama's team has launched a Web site called fightthesmears.com.
Here's what the presumptive Democratic nominee said in the hours leading up the launch of the site:
"We have seen this before. There is dirt and lies that are circulated in e-mails, and they pump them out long enough until finally you, a mainstream reporter, asks me about it. That gives legs to the story."
It's a profoundly simple site, as it should be. Lies are displayed on the home page, followed by "facts." To boost the campaign's side of the story, the Web site offers links to conservative bloggers who have also dispelled the rumor.
The most grabby section of fightthesmears.com is entitled, "Who's behind the lies." Here, Obama's truth squad attempts to trace the origin of the rumor.
As the site explains, the rumored "whitey" video tape appears to be a work of fiction lifted "almost word for word from a novel published in 2006."
Fightthesmears.com could become the model for crisis PR practitioners looking for innovative ways to fight the rumor mill both inside and outside an organization.
It's worth checking out.