Lying In Wait For Lance

How many stones will we cast from our glass houses this week?

by Jason Falls |

Unless the unexpected occurs, we will hear this week from one of the world’s greatest heroes that he is not what we’ve thought him to be. The Lance Armstrong Interview allegedly happens today for a Thursday airing on the Oprah network. All accounts are that he’ll finally admit to doping.

The Internet will have a blast, blasting the seven-time Tour de France champion (now stripped of those titles), cancer survivor and Livestrong founder.

Depending upon which and how Armstrong answers questions, he may see the end of his public career. He could draw considerable sympathy for the “I overcame cancer and doping helped me inspire millions of others to do the same,” play. He could also become the biggest fish to be publicly filleted since O.J. Either way, the Internet piranha are circling and the cyclist is the feast.

Like the mass media, the Internet and social media have become cesspools of extremism. One little slip-up or misstep and the Twitterati eat you alive. If you’re not careful or immediately apologetic, you can lose everything from curb appeal to your career.

And no one is immune. The day of the horrific shootings in Connecticut, I posted a reference to the movie A Christmas Story and said something about not shooting out your eye, a predominant theme from the movie. Having my head down in work all day and not knowing of the shootings, there was little reason for me to resist the post and reference. I’m pithy and irreverent. It fit just fine.

Moments later, I was being called names even I’d rather not repeat. One employee of a notable social media agency called me, “Disgusting,” — a label he put on anyone that day who posted anything other than profound sympathies for the dead or wounded. While I acted quickly, apologized, explained and the furor over my particular comment faded away, there was no apology or retraction from the dozens who just assumed my inappropriateness was intentional.

The problem is that we live in a polarizing world of black and white when it comes to our communications. Every headline has to be sensational. Every adjective has to be superlative. Every analysis has to be extreme.

For heaven’s sake, we’re naming winter snow storms now?!

We flippantly label people wrong, unethical or even disgusting because we’ve got some ill-conceived notion the rest of the world actually gives a shit.

The problem with black and white is the world we live in happens to be gray. No person or organization’s sins are typically extreme, diabolical or even intentional. Sure, there are bad people in the world and we’ll always run into Bernie Madoffs, Enrons and Celine Dions. (Come on?! Tell me you don’t also have nightmares on days you hear her sing? Just me? Fine.) But we flippantly label people wrong, unethical or even disgusting because we’ve got Twitter accounts, Facebook friends and some ill-conceived notion the rest of the world sees what we think and actually gives a shit.

We want the links. We want the retweets. We want the attention, even if it means inaccurately portraying someone who did something we assume we would not.

What will likely happen this week is Armstrong will admit he did something wrong, the world will label him a sinner and he will decide whether he wants to earn back that respect. Unfortunately, while the sins of Lance Armstrong certainly carry with them plenty of victims and a disappointed public, he succumbed to basic human flaws we all do — greed and glory.

Sadly, those are the basic human motivations behind telling your followers Lance Armstrong is a horrible person.

About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).