In recent weeks, there have been a lot of high publicity stories that have drawn attention to very sensitive, hot button issues. First, there was the suicide of Robin Williams, which helped to shine the spotlight once again on depression, suicide as a societal epidemic, and more. The Ray Rice case has been the focus of more recent news. Analysis of why he did what he did along with analysis of why people think his wife stayed with him has been running rampant across all media channels, it seems.
As we have discussed previously here on the blog, it can be very tempting for NPOs to “newsjack” or to create content that jumps on the coattails of a major news story. The temptation is especially strong if the story in question parallels the cause with which the NPO is affiliated. Similarly, it can be tempting for people within your organization to want to come forward when such stories are in the news. Obviously if your organization is dedicated to a specific cause you are going to have people on your staff who are passionate and well-versed. Pragmatically, speaking out with a level of expertise when your cause is in the news can also draw attention to your organization’s expertise.
As with so many things, speaking out about a sensitive topic can be a sticky wicket. Over the last few weeks, many individuals have written blog posts equating their own cases or the cases of people they have loved with situation Robin Williams found himself in, and they have conjectured about Williams’ motivations based on those parallels. More recently, people have spoken out regarding Janay Rice’s decision to stay with her husband and her later defense of his actions. They have written in judgment of her and have published hypotheses about why she did what she did.
The bottom line is that as sad as it may seem, issues like suicide, abuse, bullying, and other hard-to-handle topics all are intensely personal, both for the person directly involved and for the people surrounding that person. While organizations can tastefully use such high publicity cases to raise awareness, trying to explain a person’s behavior could be categorized as irresponsible if one is not careful. You never know who your content may reach, and if you are presented as an expert, what you say about a person, their friends, and their family could be taken quite seriously. One can be an expert in trends around the issue of suicide or abuse, but in individual cases, only the people directly involved can and should speak knowingly about what transpired. Your organization can support countless women who have been physically abused, but that does not mean you have expertise in the precise situation in which Ray and Janay Rice are involved.
The online world can very easily feed the sensation that you need to speak out, and your own passion about your cause will entice you to do so. Make sure, to the best of your ability, that when talking on behalf of your organization especially, you refrain from conjecture. Speak to the wider issue, but frame any hypotheses about any given case as just that—a hypothesis. Remember, we can be experts in issues and trends and statistics, but the only person we can truly offer expert opinions about is ourselves.