I look forward to reading the Sunday Dallas Morning News after a run. I usually scan the front page before I go to get a feeling for what is going on. This past Sunday however, a front page story stopped me at the front door. I read with astonishment the article about former KXAS-TV news anchor Mike Snyder setting up fake Facebook profiles in an attempt to sway public opinion in favor of the Museum Tower versus the Nasher Sculpture Center.
In downtown Dallas, we have a terrific sculpture center called the Nasher that is part of a vibrant, ever growing arts complex. Right next to the Nasher is a new, 42-story condo complex called the Museum Tower. Unfortunately, the outside of the tower casts a harsh glare from the sun directly into the Nasher. This glare has damaged several sculptures and casts distracting shadows into the sculpture center at various times of day. The Museum Tower and the Nasher have been in heated discussions to solve this problem for about a year. Naturally, condo sales in the tower have been slow and I would expect them to continue to be so until this issue is satisfactorily resolved.
The Museum Tower’s owner is the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System who stands to lose a ton of money for public servants if the Tower is a bust. According to the News’ article, the Pension System hired Mike Snyder as a communications consultant to, in Snyder’s words, “facilitate a community dialogue”. OK. Social media is certainly a place where this can be done. The problem is Snyder set up two fake Facebook profiles and entered into the conversation behind these personas. He not only spoke on behalf of the Museum Tower via these two fictitious characters, but he also verbally attacked the Mayor of Dallas, the attorney who was selected by both parties to mediate the dispute and even other reporters who were siding with the Nasher. Responding to the revelation of the fake profiles, Snyder said: “Social media is an integral part of this information process and open to anyone who wishes to participate, and they may participate in anonymity if they choose to do so.” Wow!
Social media has been part of the way we communicate now for six or seven years. It really is a simple proposition. We can all use these free platforms to express ourselves, to connect with others globally, in an instant, and to find out virtually anything about anything with the click of a button. And yes, you can be anonymous if you choose. But you also HAVE to be authentic and transparent especially if you are representing a highly visible entity in a contentious public dispute like the Museum Tower.
Over a 30-year career, Mike Snyder built trust with hundreds of thousands of people in the Dallas/Ft. Worth market. He built relationships with Mike Rawlings, Tom Luce and others that have been attached by him via his false personas. How does someone like Mike Snyder decide that this is the right thing to do? How does he not know that dishonesty in social media can be uncovered by simply lifting a finger? I am not surprised that this happened. I am sure thousands of similar misinformation campaigns are happening across the social web as I type this post. What does surprise me is that people like Mike Snyder still don’t understand the most basic facts about how social media works. Since Sunday, Mr. Snyder has resigned his position with the consulting firm he founded and has issued a public apology. Unfortunately, the damage has been done to both the Museum Tower and Mr. Snyder and it will be a difficult task indeed to deflect another kind of unwanted glare.