No satire in social media crisis management from the kings of fake news

The Onion is well known across the ‘net for lampooning, well, everything. Headlines on its front page right now include, “Republicans Reach Out To Women With New ‘No Punch Pretty Lady’ Bill” and “Bob Dylan Lays Off 2,000 Workers From Songwriting Factory.”

On Oscar night, however, the most famous fake news outlet in the world went too far with the joking. In a tasteless, even by Onion standards, attempt at humor, someone posted to the @TheOnion Twitter feed sarcastically referring to nine-year-old actress Quvenzhane Wallis using a four-letter word that starts with C.

Suddenly, the social media-verse was alight with furious tweets from concerned parents, longtime Onion fans, and just about everyone in between. In other words, it was very, very clear that people weren’t just upset or offended, but completely irate over the tweet.

Within the hour the tweet was deleted, but the virtual downpour continued through the night and Onion staffers must have awoken to inboxes absolutely bursting with rage. On Monday morning, the day after the Oscars, The Onion CEO Steve Hannah engaged in crisis management, publishing the following on Facebook, and later The Onion’s site:

For the CEO of a paper that fills its (virtual) pages with some pretty vicious humor, Hannah issued a solid, human apology. Not only did he announce how his company would avoid making such a mistake again and express his own shock at the joke, but he also profusely apologized and gave his acclaim to the young Ms. Wallis.

The one thing that could have made it a home-run as far as crisis communications go? Well, he acknowledged Wallis and the Academy, but how about a little compassion for all of the other parties who were offended or disappointed?

All in all, surprisingly strong crisis management from an organization that most wouldn’t expect to apologize for anything at all. It looks like they’re taking the mistake as a learning experience, and that’s a good thing. Keep being funny Onion, but watch your step when it comes to bashing little kids.

For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management

By Jonathan and Erik Bernstein