Famed Comedy Central satirist Stephen Colbert is finding himself in hot water today. After the Twitter account for his popular show, “The Colbert Report,” tweeted “I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever,” Twitter users kicked up a firestorm around the popular TV host. Mostly, Colbert’s detractors are painting the comedian as a racist, even going so far as to start a #CancelColbert hashtag-campaign on the popular social media service. Colbert, like Justin Bieber and others before him, is learning the hard way that social media can be a fickle beast.
The Out-of-Context Tweet Does Appear Racist
In all fairness, the tweet, at least at first blush, does come across as a racist statement. However, as Colbert himself has said, the tweet was taken completely out of context by the employee of Comedy Central that controls the Colbert Report’s twitter account. In actuality, what was said was a sarcastic, satirical response to news that Dan Snyder, the owner of the NFL’s Washington Red Skins, had started a new foundation called the “Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation.” The new foundation aims to raise funding for impoverished Native Americans and awareness of their plight. Snyder, compelled by outcries from the Native American community that the term “Redskins” and the attached logo were racist, took the step in order to silence critics. Colbert, perhaps unsuccessfully, tried to address the hypocritical move in his typically facetious way.
The new #CancelColbert campaign isn’t likely to lead to Stephen Colbert’s extremely popular show actually being canceled. Colbert himself has used the hashtag a number of times to humorously respond to the non-issue. Still, even as pieces, like this one, are published to explain the whole story, the backlash against the funny man doesn’t seem to be slowing.
Points to the Power of Social Media in Branding
For all brands, whether they’re power tool companies or popular media personas, Colbert’s issue represents a harsh reminder of the power of social media to completely reshape the world’s perceptions. There’s a reason why Twitter earns an estimated $217 million dollars in revenue each quarter, totaling nearly a billion every year: everyone from Colbert to National Geographic to Fox News realizes that the service’s 243 million active users eat up news from their favorite celebs and organizations on the platform.
The problem, as Mr. Colbert is now learning, is that for all the benefits of Twitter and other social platforms, one misstep will reveal just how volatile their users can be. The woefully out of context tweet on “the Colbert Report’s” popular page definitely qualifies as one such misstep.
“Part of what he needs to do to remain in the spotlight is to shock people,” says Carrie Tschetter, VP Director of PR at Archer Communications, Inc. “It’ll be forgotten about by tomorrow, because there will be other people saying shocking things within an hour.”
Are Colbert’s words deserving of the #CancelColbert debacle? Sound off in the comments below.