By Rebecca McLeod
What’s in a T-shirt? Well until last week I would have answered: ‘Not much at all.’
But that was before those T-shirts, that excuse and Twitter came to the rescue.
Last weekend, Twitter, or at least the small corner of Twitter that I inhabit, was up in arms about a collection of T-shirts being sold on Amazon by a company called Solid Gold Bomb. The T-shirts were from a collection of ‘Keep calm and…’ T-shirts – so far so vintage and harmless? Well, not really. The ‘Keep calm and…’ T-shirts were finished with statements like: ‘Rape Them’; ‘Hit Her’ and ‘Knife Her’.
Cue a lot of people on Twitter (including me) getting very angry; tweeting Amazon to demand the T-shirts were taken down; and tweeting Solid Gold Bomb to ask them what on earth they were thinking (although the hope is that they weren’t thinking at all).
By the time I got to hear about the story, Solid Gold Bomb had already put out a statement, covered here by Sky News. But it seemed to raise more questions (and fury) than it answered.
I’ve compressed the report, but in essence, Sky reported the Solid Gold Bomb comment as:
“We have been informed of the fact that we were selling an offensive T-shirt primarily in the UK… This has been immediately deleted as it was and had been automatically generated using a scripted computer process running against 100s of thousands of dictionary words… The scripted programming process that created the slogan was compiled by only one member of our staff, but we accept responsibility for the error”.
Hmmmm. Not the approach I would have taken.
Is Solid Gold Bomb really trying to blame the computers? Are we actually living in the nightmarish world of The Terminator films where amoral computers are in charge and running amok without any human control? Who programmed the computers in the first place? Who decided that it would be a good idea to let these computer-created T-shirts go straight onto the internet for sale without any further checking? Why didn’t Sold Gold Bomb know that these T-shirts existed? What responsibility does / should Amazon have? If it’s all down to a random computer programme, why does a ‘Hit Her’ T-shirt exist, but not a ‘Hit Him’ version?
I could go on… but you get the idea. Twitter was full of questions just like these, and the fact that Solid Gold Bomb immediately removed both their Facebook and Twitter pages directly after releasing the statement didn’t help.
So what lessons can we learn?
Well, I’d like to think (in my more idealistic moments) that we are becoming less tolerant as a society of ‘jokes’ like this.
In the wake of Savile and sexual harassment scandals in politics; the old: ‘It’s just a joke’; ‘Don’t take it seriously’ lines seem to be trotted out a little less often. And that can only be a good thing.
Helped, of course, by the fact there is nowhere to hide from social media.
People can draw attention to things, galvanise others, and demand action like never before. Whereas even a few years ago, removing the T-shirts and releasing a short (incredibly apologetic) statement might have sufficed… now you have to be willing to engage with your critics… and apologise directly.
Now, your statement won’t just be read by journalists, it will be shared, picked apart and questioned by people on social media and in their own blogs – and if it rambles on for pages, or just doesn’t ring true… it won’t stand up to scrutiny by the media (new or old).
Now that the traditional media cycle has gone out of the window, and news is 24 hours and social media fuelled, your reputation can be damaged in minutes.
With all that in mind, you’d think that people wouldn’t leave their business processes and reputations purely in the hands of computers.