Are content creators cashing in on tragedy?

Do content creators take advantage of tragic events to promote their own content, or are they simply using them to highlight pressing issues?

YES Says Salwa Andraos, Senior Account Manager, LiquidThread 

Salwa“It is no longer a question of whether or not content creators are cashing in on tragedy, but rather, of how they are doing it”

Unfortunately, yes, most content creators nowadays are cashing in on tragic events to promote their own content. Whether we like it or not, this is the truth of the matter. It is no longer a question of whether or not content creators are cashing in on tragedy, but rather, how they are doing it.

Content creators fight the daily battle of staying timely and ultra-relevant; and newsjacking – capitalising on the popularity of a news story to amplify your sales and marketing success – is one way of creating a twist that grabs the public eye when it is widest open. As trending topics change and attention spans get reduced every day, it is often easy for pieces to get buried under an avalanche of new content. So, if you want your content to get noticed, then you might as well take advantage of content that’s already getting noticed – be it good, bad, happy, sad, ugly or tragic.

I’m all in for newsjacking with the purpose of creating and promoting your own content; brands, producers, filmmakers and content marketers have been doing it for years – and successfully at that, more often than not. However, this requires heightened sensitivity and responsibility – characteristics that some content creators have failed to demonstrate, especially when it came to their take on tragic events.

Take, for instance, MH17 Strikes Back, the game that was released on the heels of one of the worst air disasters in modern history. Trying to cash in on the terrible tragedy, the game appeared just hours after the Malaysian Airlines’ flight MH17 crashed in Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. Shockingly, it allowed players to fly a passenger jet through a war zone, avoiding missiles and returning fire on the enemy – as I mentioned, appalling.

Locally, we’re still trying to wrap our heads around how to benefit from tragic and trending topics while treading the line of cultural and social sensitivities. And in this regard, hats off to the young Saudi generation that has succeeded in doing just that through sheer satire on YouTube.

In the wake of a Saudi woman being caught driving and getting severely punished for it, Alaa Wardi, a Saudi-based artist and comedian, along with his team re-wrote Bob Marley’s classic, No Woman, No Cry, to protest the ban on women driving in the kingdom. Dubbed “No woman No Drive”, the music video played a dual role by, one, highlighting a pressing issue and, two, driving audiences to download more of Wardi’s music & videos.

At the end of the day, content creators are going to cash in on tragedy. Let’s just hope they go about doing it with class, intelligence and sensibility.


NO, Says Faris Al Jawad, sub-editor, Gulf News

FarisAlJawad“To say that the content managers’ sole aim is to cash in on tragedy seems cynical and unfair” 

Bad news is good news, so it’s been said. ‘Small earthquake, no-one dead’ isn’t going to sell newspapers or get web hits. ‘Mass disaster, thousands perish’? Now, that’s more like it. Watch your figures rise! This may be the traditional view of content managers; cashing in on tragedy, whooping as body counts rise, hoping that things get worse before they get better. And I’m sure for some organisations there’s an element of truth in this cliché. The bigger the catastrophe or disaster, the bigger the headline, and in turn the bigger the sales/likes/shares.

However, in my opinion, to say that the content managers’ sole aim is to cash in on tragedy seems cynical and unfair. Some might say that it is idealistic, but the idea of sharing and communicating the causes and consequences of tragedy, to me at least, suggests a possibility of educating readers, and perhaps in turn creating change or prevention of future tragedies.

Take the latest horrors that occurred in Gaza last summer. With social media forums such as Twitter and Facebook, readers/viewers had minute to minute updates of the situation from civilians on the ground in the warzone. Consequently, people were seeing a side to the conflict that perhaps they never had before. The victims of the horrors were able to share their voice. Could it not be argued, that, without the widespread circulation of this content, perhaps the war would have dragged on for longer and on an even more severe scale? The massive public outcry from around the world against the brutal bombing and killing of innocent civilians in Gaza surely put some pressure on the Israeli government to end the conflict.

Reportage on tragedies sparks discussion, analysis, and potentially development. Recently Friday magazine ran a story about the documentary India’s Daughter, which focuses on the 2012 gang rape of Jyoti Singh in Delhi, and the backward, sexist and brutal attitudes towards women that are ingrained in parts of Indian society. This story is undoubtedly tragic in every sense. The Indian government decided to ban the documentary across India. Is this the right course of action? Are they being noble by banning the film? I say absolutely not. Fundamental changes need to be implemented in India’s education system. Reportage on the problems and horrors that are occurring is vital to these changes. In order to make a positive development, we must understand the root of the cause, and reporting on these tragedies, honestly and ethically, is a step in that direction.

It is, of course, the responsibility of content managers to balance their duty to inform and educate society while respecting the privacy of individuals. Inevitably there are some who violate this moral code, however, there are also many who honour it.

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