Digital media is new to many of us in Cecil County (especially the leadership) since we don’t collectively have lots of experience with how web 2.0 technologies can be used to influence outcomes by spreading spread news or disinformation. But that changed here last week in an enormous way, particularly as many people saw directly how this medium can be leveraged, even if traditional distribution outlets are sluggish in picking-up on the subject.
Observant individuals have taken note of the power of blogs and how they can quickly bring a buzz to a hot subject, which we saw once the “perfect storm” hit Cecil County overnight. The “weatherman” could have predicted the way the wind was blowing on this gale for all the right elements were in place for a major nor’eastern. There had been rumors about allegations of problems for many months as evidenced by a site created in October, which went after WBAL’s John Sherman for producing a piece on the SPCA complaints. The really emotional nature of issue is one that has implications far beyond our borders and once individuals with track records of taking on controversial issues got involved, even our amateur weather observers weren’t going to miss forecasting the blogstorm of the century. After it all came together, it spread like a New England blizzard as people far and wide paid attention to the buzz, accelerating and spreading the allegations through social networking sites, more blogs and email discussion groups.
The learning curve for this technology isn’t steep for anyone with minimal computer skills can create a presence. We know that at least one County Commissioner is familiar with the application of these tools for advocacy for the Last Straw was started in 2004 by Rebecca Demmler before she was elected to office. The Internet Archive, a respositiory that captures web postings, has her work going back to 2004 when she was involved in advocacy and awareness. Commissioner Demmler was an early adapter, but she apparenlty stopped publishing that product once she assumed the elected office, but she was perhaps the first to use these products, which were more challenging back so many years ago (2004!) as these products got easier to use. Now anyone with no special skills can publish virtual pages.
Walls of silence, with all the news left behind, used to be the preferred containment strategy for adverse news here but that is no longer an option in the 21st century. (That old 20th century containment strategy is no longer viable.) The thing to do for any and all stakeholders is get ahead of quickly moving stories by making sure you are doing the right thing, which in this case is for everyone, early on, making sure an independent investigation occurs. That should have been the intervention in October when this first surfaced for people’s name may need to be cleared or corrective actions could be called for. One thing we know is that you will not get that independent investigation working behind closed doors or through noise on the Net. Trustworthy factfinding is the way to set this record straight and put this perfect storm to rest.
This is finally going to happen though at every step of the way the decibels to get to this point were enormous. Notice, in evening postings on the Whig website, the county commissioners first agreed to meet in private and then reversed that position. With the last announcement, they have done the right thing at their level of involvement for we are sure they just want to know the facts and don’t want to appear to be involved in this mess, other than getting it straightened out for the good of everyone.