Hot-button political issues and social media are a match made in heaven. This was evident last week on Boy Scouts of America’s Facebook page
and Twitter feed
The Boy Scouts organization has always been an ideological lightning rod for its policies and leadership. On Jan. 28 it made a huge leap toward quelling at least one side of the criticism with an announcement
that it was considering removing its membership restriction regarding sexual orientation.
The news immediately went viral, and, last Wednesday, Boy Scouts of America (BSA) issued another statement
, saying it was backing away from making any immediate changes to its membership policy.
The announcement taking back the previous decision drew an outpouring of polarizing comments on its Facebook page. To its credit, the BSA has been letting the conversation run wild, letting the masses post offensive and inappropriate comments. Clearly, trying to manage the conversation would be fruitless.
The official Facebook page of the Boy Scouts has 225,000 “likes,” and 10 percent of those are “actively listening” to conversations. Since Jan. 28, the Twitter hashtag #boyscouts has been trending off and on.
An Ohio resident took a more conciliatory approach to his comment on Thursday responding to the BSA’s announcement on Wednesday. He said:
“Why is this a topic of discussion? I am confused. This is an organization for boys not men or women, gay or not. Has the world gone crazy? Go pick on someone your own size!”
So far, BSA’s post on delaying its decision has drawn thousands of comments. Its initial post about the potential change in membership policy drew nearly 24,000 comments.
If the conversation turned particularly nasty and negative, BSA could turn off its Facebook comments, but given the organization’s exposure across social media, the conversation would just take place somewhere else. At least now, the organization can keep the talk contained on its page instead of having it spread to the pages of its scouting groups.
A quick check of my community’s scouting Facebook page
showed a link to the BSA latest decision and a handful of comments, mostly polarizing but not as hateful as the ones on BSA’s page.
Undoubtedly, Boy Scouts leadership must have been backed into a corner or they never would have put off reviewing their membership policies. The take-back refueled those who want a more inclusive scouting organization and at least temporarily placated those OK with the current policies.
In the media, views of the decision were also divided along political lines. The left-leaning Huffington Post
offered this headline on a blog post: “The Boy Scouts Deserve More Than a Copout
,” and the conservative site Heritage.org said “Boy Scouts Stand Strong, Delay Potential Policy Reversal
Buying time might make sense for the BSA leadership. They can take the next several months to try to make at least one side understand why it will or will not change its policy. At least now the BSA knows that regardless of the decision, expected in May, its social media channels are going to take a sustained beating.
Gil Rudawsky heads the crisis communication and issues management practice at GroundFloor Media in Denver. He is a former reporter and editor. Read his blog or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.