Why Social Media Papogi Is Hard: On the DPWH Photoshop Disaster
October 6, 2011 7 Comments
Everybody wants to look good, and some people go to great—and even imaginary—lengths for it. But telling a tall tale to acquaintances over a few drinks is an extremely different deal from spinning stories on social media networks. The tangled web of lies multiplies exponentially when you try to pull it off online, because there are tens of thousands of people bored enough, good enough at stalking, or obsessed enough to call your bluff.
Sadly, this lesson was lost on the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). A week ago, a picture of Undersecretary Romeo Momo, Director Rey Tagudando and District Engineer Mikunug Macud apparently inspecting the damage along Roxas Boulevard after typhoon Pedring hit appeared on their Facebook page. The problem was that the photo was obviously fake, with the three officials edited in.
This sparked highly negative reactions, and DPWH apologized. Another problem though—they apologized to the officials first, and waited for more rage before half-heartedly apologizing to the public. In a seemingly desperate attempt at looking for a scapegoat, they even blamed the photographer. They also claimed that the photo was posted by an “overeager” employee who had been dealt with. Sadly, this whole fiasco even reached the Washington Post. And we ever-humorous Filipinos found a way of turning this into a running joke by photoshopping the three officials in hilarious settings—from Da Vinci paintings to movie posters.
Note: As much as I would like to join in the fun, I’ll be decent (in this blog, at least) by not posting any edited pictures or linking to the Facebook page of spoofs. (You’ve probably seen it anyway).
The thing here is that even if the DPWH placed the blame on their page moderator, their department will still and will always be the bad guys. The fact that angered most Filipinos is that they displayed the intention to deceive us. Trust is a big thing for a brand, and being a government agency, trust should be of premium importance to the DPWH. True, the page moderator may have acted independently, but that move reflects on the values that DPWH instills in their employees. Why in the world would they even feel the need to (badly) manipulate a picture?
What we see here is a carryover of the political papogi tactic, where government officials, in their effort to look good without really getting things done, do all sorts of antics for publicity’s sake. If this mentality is second-nature to the DPWH employees, it gives us a peek at how PR is done in their department.
There are a couple of lessons to be learned from this whole thing:
One, is that an organization needs to be coordinated. Online and offline efforts need to be able to be consistent, to be able to relay to the target audience who the organization is and what it does.
Two, is that apologies must be swift, and they must be made to the right people. The main stakeholders—in DPWH’s case, the public—need to be addressed first.
Three, is that an organization needs to get its stuff together before it can start publicizing. Coordination is important, but watching every employee’s every move isn’t necessary when they instinctively think and act according to the organization’s identity. Members of an organization which communicates the importance of honesty and integrity—something we have the right to expect from our government—won’t even think of doing anything deceptive, even with something as simple as a photo.
Hopefully, this reputation train wreck for the DPWH will serve as a lesson for the other government agencies and companies. Online isn’t the best place for “reinventing” (read: lying about) yourself, because we’re watching your every move.