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News & commentary

Feb 22, 2013

'You've got some f*#king nerve': festival organiser directs award-worthy social media #fail

This week John Polson, film director and organiser of the world's largest short film festival, created a different kind of production: a bizarre PR debacle on Twitter.

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John Polson

In this day and age of social media successes and failures, a viral PR disaster can be a company’s worst nightmare.

Last year, an employee of Taco Bell was fired after tweeting a picture of himself urinating on a plate of Nachos. A McDonald’s Twitter campaign went horribly wrong when people used the #McDStories hashtag to tell less than complimentary stories about dining experiences.

In February, sacked HMV employees used the company’s Twitter account to vent their disgust. Early this month, American restaurant chain Applebee’s committed “digital suicide” on Facebook after an employee posted online a receipt from a snarky customer who elected to give their tip to God.

This week, somebody hacked into Burger King’s Twitter account and, among other things, posted obscene messages and changed the company’s logo to McDonald’s.

Social media #fails are all too common for companies with loose social media guidelines and, more importantly, with employees that don’t understand the syntax of social media platforms and the potential for them to do far more harm than good.

It is a different kettle of fish, however, when social media incidents concern outlandish acts from individuals who bring organisations down with them — or at least smear them with the same off-coloured cyber brush.

Catherine Deveny lucked out and was boned from Fairfax after tweeting crass jokes during the Logies. In 2011, in a stranger-than-fiction turn of events, long-time Age film critic Jim Schembri ranted about time machines after spoiling the ending to Scream 4. The next year he contacted employers of Twitter users who criticised him and issued veiled legal threats.

This week John Polson, founder of the world’s largest short film festival Tropfest, joined the fold of crazy-in-the-coconut social media usage.

In response to this article, in which I asked Polson a range of questions about the commercial side of  Tropfest and the manner with which films are selected and judged, the 47-year-old went on a prolific spray on Twitter and left a muddy digital footprint. Was it founded or not? You decide.

After The Australian published this column, describing the Twitter incident as an “intemperate feud” and advising Polson not to “bite”, the festival organiser and Hollywood film director went back and deleted almost everything. But the internet is not quick to forget. Screenshots help, too.

Here are the tweets John Polson doesn’t want you to see. In his first tweet Polson alleged the conversation we had over the phone was “not representative” of the resulting story.

He didn’t stop there. The next day, Polson was back on the front foot. Here’s a small selection. These tweets have all also been deleted.

Polson’s bizarre Twitter behaviour arrived in the midst of the festival’s latest controversy. The winning film this year was the third in six years to be accused of plagiarism. And while I believe that accusation is unfair, for reasons I wrote about here, it highlights (along with Polson’s spat) the need for Tropfest to realise that despite being packaged for free in Fairfax newspapers every year, they cannot expect — and nor should they — wall-to-wall puff pieces and positive press.

If they do happen to be reported in any vaguely critical manner, it might not be the best idea to fly off the handle.

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