Even though it had been known there were allegations of sexual abuse against Bill Cosby for some time, it did not seem to have much of an effect on his positive overall public opinion. Even in 2006 despite a Today Show interview with one alleged victim and a civil court case settlement with another, Cosby was able to win national awards, continue to be offered network shows, and have a very successful career. Somehow in 2014 it all changed in a matter of weeks. How did all change so suddenly?
The presence of Social media and its effects on how information flows certainly seems to have played a role. For years Cosby and his people could stay just far enough ahead of his accusers to drown their message out. But when Hannibal Buress’s asked his audience to Google Bill Cosby and Rape they did, and they reposted his video so others could see it too. It wasn’t a news story, it wasn’t an article, it was a YouTube video.
Cosby’s people retaliated by trying to regain control. They wanted to apply their old monopolistic approach. Their ‘meme me’ campaign (asking users to make funny captions about Cosby) was an attempt to turn the positive volume up and the negative down. But in giving the audience a say in the narrative, they allowed them to take it over. In the social media world sometimes the controversial often gets noticed more anyway.
Burress and the meme incidents set the stage for Barbara Bowman’s Washington Post piece, “http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/11/13/bill-cosby-raped-me-why-did-it-take-30-years-for-people-to-believe-my-story/” which got noticed too. Easily accessible on the Washington Post site, news sources could easily link to it, draw more attention, and we could all reconsider the story.
The door and our ears were now open for other Cosby’s accusers to enter and they came running through. Each new person coming forward with another story, acting as more proof of a new message. Each attempt by Cosby to drown it out, including his AP and NPR interviews, were conspicuous not only because of his lack of effort to address the growing questions, but because of his bizarre and laughable attempts to draw attention from what we were now inevitably focused on. The accessibility of these interviews, which can be played at the ready for anyone to watch them again to help further resonate out the message to those who had not yet seen them made it all too easy to see where this was going. The narrative had changed, the message had gotten out.
With social media and YouTube you can’t control the message so easily anymore. More people will be heard. Twitter and Facebook puts celebrities right on the same pages in discussions with the ‘common folk’. The old ‘Hush and quell’ strategy that might have worked at one time, will be harder to pull off. Try to be heavy handed and manipulative now and we might just catch on to you. Keeping all this quiet might have worked ten years ago, it does not work now. If you are going to venture out in the new social media landscape and be deceitful, be prepared for a rough ride.