By Thomas Lashier
Spin: (informal) the practice of presenting news or information in a way that creates a favorable impression
That is how the World English Dictionary defines “spin”. And thanks to the emergence of social media, people like Donald Sterling can no longer use their influence to “spin” a news story to create a favorable impression of themselves.
On Saturday, April 26th, the owner of the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Los Angeles Clippers, Donald Sterling, was heard on tape making incredibly insensitive and racist comments towards black people and other minorities. The audio was released to the public by gossip site TMZ. As you can imagine, this created a firestorm of public outrage, commentary, and opinions. On Tuesday, April 29th, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver suspended Donald Sterling from the NBA for life and asked other NBA owners to pressure Sterling into selling the team.
That was 3 days. Donald Sterling has owned the Clippers for the past 33 years, so how did the NBA Commissioner make the enormous decision to suspend him for life after just 3 days?
The answer? Social media.
For starters, Sterling was upset with his girlfriend for posting a picture (above) of her and Magic Johnson on Instagram, a photo-sharing social network. Then, the news of Sterling’s racist comments broke late Saturday night. Of course, TMZ put the audio on their website and numerous TV stations covered the story, exposing Sterling’s remarks to the public. But in years past, the story could have ended there.
Sterling could have used his influence (he’s worth an estimated $2 billion) to call up his contacts in the media and try to spin the story in his favor. He could have gotten in front of cameras, said “I’m sorry” over and over again, begged for forgiveness, and waited for the media to move on to their next breaking story. He could have tried to slant the story and tell the public that this was just a bad day, a one-time vent of frustration, and felt confident that only a few people knew his long history with racism. Sure people may have been upset, but they would have been limited to sharing their views with family and close friends. Not anymore.
The second the story broke, people around the world took to Twitter with their opinions. Stories, news articles, and past lawsuits were shared on Facebook. NBA players, celebrities, news personalities, and ordinary people all shared their feelings with the public:
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) April 28, 2014
Donald Sterling’s racist remarks? What he’s been saying for yrs. I think he should be stripped of his championship rings. All zero of them.
— Bette Midler (@BetteMidler) April 27, 2014
Almost instantly, the world was learning about Donald Sterling. The real Donald Sterling, complete with all of his prior racist actions and remarks. A flood of information past and present travelled around the globe before Sterling even had a chance to spin the story in his favor. Before Sunday morning, people had formed opinions and were calling for something to be done about Sterling and his ownership of the Clippers. In fact, NBA players took to social media to organize silent protests by game time on Sunday. Some people even criticized the NBA’s decision for being delayed, despite it only taking 3 days(!).
On Sunday night, Sterling must have seen the worldwide impact of his comments. In a last-ditch effort, he contacted his girlfriend (who had taped his conversation) to see how they “could make this go away”. But this weak attempt just proved that Sterling is ignorant in more ways than one. The damage was done. Social media had accelerated the sharing of information to lightning speeds, and everyone already knew the real Donald Sterling.
Thanks to the added pressure of social media, the NBA needed to move quickly and decisively. Everyone had heard the tape and read the stories, now what would the NBA do with it? After Commissioner Silver banned Sterling for life, people again took to social media to share their opinions on the news. NBA owners and players had their own opinions:
I agree 100% with Commissioner Silvers findings and the actions taken against Donald Sterling — Mark Cuban (@mcuban) April 29, 2014
Again, this all took place within 3 days. Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and more, the traditional news media no longer owns a story. Rich and powerful people like Donald Sterling can no longer slant a story in their favor or wiggle their way out of damaging comments. Everyone has the same instant access to information, and they share this information with their friends and networks.