What began as a means of communication intended to bring people from around the world together has grown into a vehicle for instilling fear. The recent Oscars mishap and subsequent death threats the Pricewaterhouse Coopers accountants received are a prime example of the dangers of social media in this day and age.
This incident shows how emotionally attached people become to movies and how some act out when the results aren’t in their favor, similar to threats athletes (and their families) have received for mistakes made during an important game. The individuals who threatened the accountants were fortunately venting frustration and the threats themselves held no credibility.
But, this is only the tip of the iceberg. I predict many more threats will follow, especially since the framework has been created and highly publicized, thus inspiring others. Social media threats are something industry folks must be aware of and prepare for.
It is important to note that threats aimed at the sports and entertainment industries are nothing new and have been around for ages: however, social media changed their delivery method.
For example, in 1973 as Hank Aaron was approaching Babe Ruth’s career homerun record, he received a flood of letters with racist threats. Never once did he give in to fear and went on to break the record.
Nowadays, everyone from Kim Kardashian to Rihanna to Game of Thrones star Brenock O’Connor have been threatened on social media. “If you get people from Spain and Portugal and all over the world saying they are going to kill your family, you just can’t take it to heart or you would not cope,” stated O’Connor, after being targeted for something his character did on the show.
The entertainment industry is at a point where the success of an album, event, movie or TV show breeds passion and sometimes fanaticism that, when combined with easy access to social media and the misguided aurora of secrecy, becomes a recipe for disaster.
Outside of threats involving physical violence, there are a plethora of other threats surfacing on social media that directly impact individuals and organizations, including: unreleased content published on social networks, chatter before cyber-attacks occur, and damaging posts with the potential to go viral and harm brand reputation.
When one takes a step back to think about it, social media has become a digital weapon and is being used on a daily basis to harm others. But what is the solution?
Social media threats have also become a big problem in the U.K. going back a few years. When Jeremy Clarkson was fired from the BBC’s Top Gear show, diehard fans expressed their frustration on social media and actually made death threats to his potential successor. The BBC and even The Guardian daily newspaper reached out to Soteria Intelligence, the Los Angeles-based social media intelligence firm that I run, for feedback.
The laws in the U.K. are getting ahead of the problem, but, at the same time, it’s often difficult to track down certain threat actors if they used fake accounts, library computers, etc. For example, when Rihanna received death threats on Instagram, all of the news outlets reported the person’s name incorrectly and stated the investigation was ongoing. We discovered his real name and actually found an image of his driver’s license on another Instagram account.
One of the biggest challenges of combating social media threats of all types and mitigating damage early on is having the ability to analyze millions of data points to extract actionable intelligence; most of which is done manually today due to technology limitations.
Simply said, there’s no way humans themselves can tackle a “big data” problem by using listening tools that are powered by combinations of keywords, posts on a map or other basic metrics that produce an overwhelming number of false positives.
As a real-world example, imagine an organization is monitoring Twitter for the keywords “Hollywood” and “bomb” then scouring the results to identify alarming posts. They’ll be alerted to tweets like: “I had a bomb dinner in Hollywood,” “the street performer in Hollywood was the bomb,” “leaving Hollywood after a bomb movie,” and the list goes on. And while sorting through the clutter actual damage is done.
There were signs on social media 72-hours before the ISIS attack in Paris. Two New York City police officers were killed nearly three hours after Ismaaiyl Brinsley posted direct threats on Instagram. Innocent children have lost their lives in school shootings that could’ve been prevented. As a result, organizations have spent millions of dollars to mitigate damage after PR catastrophes originating on social networks.
What’s interesting is that the solution to this very serious problem was shown in Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report, where “Pre-Cogs” had the power to see into the future and predict crimes. This may seem totally far-off, but it’s not.
With recent advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI), supercomputers can be trained to become more intelligent than humanly possible, and even be crowned the champion of Jeopardy (IBM’s Watson). The days of relying on elementary metrics are over and Minority Report has come to life.
Using AI, computers have the ability to look at millions of data points and extract needles from haystacks in ways that would blow your mind. Empowered by AI, it’s not individuals or teams making decisions but instead solutions from literally thousands of years of combined experience.
Social media can be a real threat to the entertainment industry in myriad ways, and it’s critical for companies to get ahead of the problem before it knocks on the front door.
What if a studio spent $100 million to create a movie with an all-star cast and for some reason tensions began to build on social media leading up to its release, without boiling over, resulting in negative publicity, canceled screenings, and diminished sales – wouldn’t executives want to identify the problem before it spirals out of control and financial losses skyrocket?
On the other hand, if there were signs on social media before the Dark Knight Rises massacre, could the tragic incident that left 12 dead and many more injured have been prevented? Ultimately, we’ll never know, but we have to work toward making the world a better place in the future.
The moral of the story is that social media provides a wealth of valuable information that must be properly cultivated and analyzed to keep people safe, protect organizations, and allow the entertainment industry to continue to thrive. (By Aaron Schoenberger, CEO of Soteria Intelligence)
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