Not so fast with the delete button: how blocking and deleting comments on your social media can backfire

 

Sometimes, managing your work’s Facebook page requires some restraint.  We don’t have a lot of overly-critical followers on our U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service account.  But every now and then, one will pop up.

When that happens, I drink one big cup of “suck it up,” and respond appropriately.  Our followers are very, very important to us.  If they have questions or concerns, they have every right to be heard. We could not do our conservation work without them!

Not everyone is as patient when dealing with negative comments.

In 2014, I fell head over heels in love with Jaxon Emmett Buell…a baby born with only a brainstem. Doctors predicted he would die at birth. But he didn’t.  Not only did he survive, but according to his parents, he was actually thriving!

JStrong

Some friends of Jaxon’s parents, Brandon and Brittany Buell, created a Facebook page named JAXON STRONG, where they posted photos, videos and captured every big moment in his life.  Fans were able to follow Jaxon on this amazing journey. Some videos seemed to show the little guy actually saying “I love you!”  Another seemed to show him attempting to walk.  The world fell in love, and the story quickly went viral.

You can read all about it here.

As to be expected, Jaxon went through many medical complications, such as seizures, irritability, and constant vomiting. Friends opened up a Go Fund Me so his mother, Brittany Buell, could stop working and stay at home so she could better care for Jaxon.  The funds were also to be used for Jaxon’s medical expenses.

It didn’t take long for the Go Fund Me and the Facebook page to take off.

With every new fan, photograph, video and post, donors poured more money into the account.  The media was also captivated, and several national and international news outlets picked up the story.  The Buells made their rounds on television, appearing on ABC’s 20/20, Inside Edition and much more.

nightline

Side by side, the Buells would tell their story:  halfway through the pregnancy, Brittany was told Jaxon’s head was measuring small.  They said he would not be compatible with life, and would die shortly after birth.  Although doctor’s recommended terminating the baby, the Buells wanted to give Jaxon a chance.  The story was like a fairy tale!

I was totally captivated by it.

But as Jaxon’s popularity grew, so did his detractors.  Not everyone agreed with the Buell’s decision to carry Jaxon to term.  Some felt Jaxon was suffering.  Others thought the Buells were exploiting him, accusing them of embellishing Jaxon’s abilities to attract more donors; their Go Fund Me skyrocketed to $176,000, and people had questions.

GFM

Can a baby really talk if he only has a brainstem?  Were these videos a hoax?  How is the money being spent?

I watched daily on my screen as these questions poured in.  As a professional communicator, I wanted to see how the Buells would handle such inquiries. For the most part, people were just curious.  But I quickly learned the Buells’ PR plan:  delete and block all negative commenters.

And boy, did they block.

Don’t get me wrong.  If someone is outright nasty, then they SHOULD be blocked. But I started noticing a defensive tone to the page, resulting from rather benign comments or questions.  For instance, one fan commented on how lucky the Buells were to have a nice Go Fund Me to help with their expenses.  The Buells made sure to put that fan in her place.

Millionaires

Delete. Block.

Another poster commented that it is physically impossible for a baby with most of his brain missing to be sentient.

Delete. Block.

Soon, it seemed like each day brought a new social media drama for the Buells.  Posters started digging into their personal Facebook pages, and noticed what looked to be multiple vacation photos.

The questions came rolling in.

Were these vacations funded by Jaxon’s Go Fund Me account?  How much are Jaxon’s medical expenses? What are you doing with all of the money? When do you plan to close the account?

Delete. Block.

In a way, I felt for the Buells. I wanted to reach out and say, no! Stop! You are handling this all wrong.  Instead of wiping your social media of critically thinking questions, just answer them!

Brandon explained why he retained his right to scrub the JAXON STRONG page of all “negativity.”

OK. Fair enough. It’s his page. He can do what he wants. But there’s one thing I’ve learned.  If you take away a person’s avenue to communicate, they will simply find another avenue.

Soon, banned posters migrated to YouTube, where Jaxon and his story were mocked.  The Buells had no power to delete or ban.

leighna screenshot

All of this was truly a sight to behold.

I felt for the Buells. I still feel for them. But I can’t help but think if they had just addressed concerns, and allowed their fans to have a voice, these mock pages wouldn’t have appeared. I’m sure it must have been difficult for them to be thrust into an international limelight. They did the best they could.

Today, the JAXON STRONG Facebook page is no longer updated. I suspect the cruel comments were just too much to handle.  It’s a shame, because I sure loved following their story.  At least Brandon still travels as a motivational speaker, and he’s pretty darn good at it.

My takeaway?

  1.  Don’t be so quick to delete and ban people from your page.
  2. Only delete and ban if someone is being malicious.
  3. If people have concerns or accusations, be forthcoming, and address them appropriately.
  4. When in doubt, hire a PR professional.

 

With that being said, I wish Jaxon and his parents all the best!

 

 

 

 

 

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