Editor’s Note: The following post was written by Tony Jaques, an Australian Issue and crisis expert and author of the online newsletter Managing Outcomes.
It all started when Nestle made a minor change all around the world to one of its leading baby formula products.
Unlike anywhere else, some Australian mothers started a social media campaign claiming the new formula was making their babies sick and calling for it to be withdrawn. Nestle tested the product and tested again. Then the independent regulator, the New South Wales Food authority stepped in and announced that the product was safe and not likely to cause the illnesses claimed.
It might have been just another of those “angry mum” stories until Sydney Journalist Melisssa Davey boldly chose to challenge the mothers themselves and unleashed a flood of hate.
In the Sydney Morning Herald she interviewed a leading paediatrician, allergist and neonatologist who not only defended the product, but said the mothers’ campaign was unfounded and alarming and that it risked worrying parents unnecessarily.
As she later reported in a comment piece , the social media campaign then went from expressing honestly held views to virtual online bullying. One mother even posted the private contact details of the doctor, who was attacked through vicious phone calls before the Facebook campaign founder removed his phone number. The reporter wrote:
“This kind of witch-hunt behaviour is nothing short of disgusting.
What gives any group the right to attack a senior doctor in this highly personal way? This is a senior specialist who has helped thousands of babies, contributed significantly to research in the areas of infant health and who dedicates his life to ensuring children are healthy. Is this the response from a rationale, balanced group? It’s one thing to disagree with a doctor. It’s another thing altogether to vilify one.”
Predictably the group’s Facebook page went into hyperdrive.
“She’s an idiot, an absolute idiot”
“Mothers know their babies best and know when something is different and wrong. Attacking mothers and calling us militants is disgraceful.”
“Does the writer of the article even have a baby”
and much more in the same vein.
As Melissa Davey concluded:
“The militant mother mentality has to stop”
It is a noble thought, but experience suggests she is wasting her breath.
What about you? What are your thoughts?
Tony Jaques is an Australian-based consultant working in the areas of issues, crises and risk communication. He writes the regular e-newsletter Managing Outcomes and is author of the new book Issue and Crisis Management: Exploring issues, crises, risk and reputation (Oxford University Press, 2014)