Sarah Palin Learns the Web Has No Undo Feature

The Former Alaska Governor Tried to Take Down Her Map With Crosshairs Over Gifford's District, but Google Never Forgets

By Published on . 17

Josh Bernoff
Josh Bernoff
Sometimes you make a mistake in the digital realm and you need to fix it. But once something is out on the Web and in social networks, you cannot erase it. Instead, you must apologize and move on.

The recent shootings in Arizona have created an interesting laboratory for observing this, because they caused a lot of the people who had amped up the rhetoric to wonder if they'd made a mistake. This post isn't about whether the rhetoric led to the shootings (that's not known and probably unknowable) or even about whether the rhetoric was a mistake. It's about how to step back from a mistake.

Sarah Palin and her people did this badly.

As Erik Sherman shows in this BNET article, Palin wishes she could take back some parts of her Web site takebackthe20.com. Her people had chosen the unfortunate metaphor of crosshairs on a map to indicate congresspeople to be targeted in the recent congressional elections. Now of course, they didn't mean literally targeted, but this looked pretty bad after the shootings. So they wanted to press the undo button.

The site's been taken down, but Google never forgets, so it's still in the Google cache. They said the marks were "surveyor's marks" rather than crosshairs. Hmm. The map was up on her Facebook page. It still is. That's where I got it.


This is a classic example of the Striesand effect, in which attempts to remove things from the Web cause them to spread (named for the case where Barbra Striesand's lawyers attempted in vain to get a photo of her house removed from the Web). But this case is different, because the graphic was posted by the same people who were trying to remove it. So learn. You can't take something off the Internet, even if you put it there. And attempts to do so only make it worse.

This could be you. We all make mistakes like this. When you make a mistake, own it. Apologize and say you were wrong. Say why you were wrong and what you are doing to make amends. That's what Johnson & Johnson did when it offended mothers with an online video about Motrin. That's what JetBlue did when it stranded a bunch of passengers during a winter storm.

Apologizing is hard, but it's honest and people can see what did and how you fixed it. In the end, if you seek trust and a reputation for integrity, it's required. And it works -- the Motrin and JetBlue brands took their hits and moved on.

Failing to apologize and trying to hide what you posted, on the other hand, doesn't work and ruins your brand further. Don't go there.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Bernoff is Senior Vice President, Idea Development at Forrester Research and the co-author of "Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, and Transform Your Business," a management book that teaches you how to transform your business by empowering employees to solve customer problems. He blogs at blogs.forrester.com/groundswell.
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