This week I met the only person in the English-speaking world who has not heard of Rob Ford. I was in Belize City waiting to go on the local morning show, and the television in the green room was tuned to CNN. Sure enough, there was a piece on Rob Ford’s latest drunken performance being shown. My Belizean colleague, who does not use social media, had not heard of our Canadian scandal. By Friday, however, he had seen a late night American talk show do a piece on Mayor Ford and was ribbing me about him.
This got me thinking that the Rob Ford stories, my colleague here aside, show quite clearly the power of social media to make and spread news before the traditional media can catch up. From time to time, you still hear traditional media being referred to as “mainstream” media, but, today, social media is “mainstream” and traditional media secondary. His stories show the power of cell phone technology to make us all videographers and the power of sites for sharing video with friends and strangers to bring news to the world fast and unfiltered. Then the traditional media pick the stories up and spread them further.
CityNews hired the firm Marketwired to analyze the social media frenzy at the end of last October when the Toronto police announced that they had video evidence of the Mayor smoking crack cocaine. What they found was that Rob Ford was mentioned more than 1.5 million times on social media (1.4 million mentions were as tweets). Their data also showed that Ford was mentioned an average of 2,767 times an hour. Traditional media followed soon after. An Influence Communications analysis of media coverage provided to the Canadian Press showed that Mayor Ford received more media coverage in the United States than any other Canadian news story since the beginning of this century.
The Ford Saga was covered by the tabloids, of course, but also by the New York Times and other more serious media outlets, too. Influence determined that Rob Ford was mentioned in 14,385 stories on American television, radio, websites and newspapers between November 4 (the day before he confessed to having indulged in crack cocaine) and December 1.
None of this would have been possible without the video taken with a cell phone that started the police investigation. And this week’s story, that sent Rob Ford back into the media glare, was also a result of a citizen reporter sharing a cell phone video. Now Jimmy Kimmel is trying to launch a Rob Ford meme, which would involve the Rob Ford imitators pushing through hoards of traditional media reporters pushing mikes in their faces while the imitators say inane things. He calls it “RobFording.”
It all makes me wonder why Rob Ford doesn’t realize that there are social media users with cameras everywhere he goes, and it also makes me think about the challenges of being a politician and maintaining a private life in a social media world.