Attempt to save face

W. Va. DOT responds to social media attack

October 08, 2015

I never thought Dr. Matt was a dream, and now some are saying he is the monster under your bed.

Like most communities, the one I live in has a Facebook page. It’s a place where people can ask for a recommendation, give local traffic updates or just vent. For a while whenever a new resident would ask for the best kids dentist in the area, all the mothers would stumble over each other and immediately scream the praises of this “dreamy” Dr. Matt. Well, apparently this fantasy trance has allowed an assistant to slip faulty cavity reports past these vulnerable parents. The news broke on Facebook, and within 24 hours the crush everyone had on Dr. Matt was reduced to dust. That’s what a rumor mill can do, even if it’s not justified.

Social media comes with some very sharp edges, and one vicious thread can jam someone’s image through a meat grinder in an instant. In September, the Pomeroy-Mason Bridge in West Virginia became the poster hot dog of our industry as far as the impact social media carries these days. Apparently, somebody posted the following on a Facebook page:

“Warning, if you can avoid crossing the Pomeroy-Mason bridge, you should do so. The bridge is shifting and it was built on a sink hole [sic]. Pass this along to your family and friends.”

Well, this note passing burned a trail under computer desks in no time, and people were adding items to the bonfire. One “threader” even said the road connecting Pomeroy and Middleport, Ohio, was being constructed along a hillside because it was unsafe to travel the road that was currently under the bridge, which was built in 2008. 

As expected, the West Virginia Department of Transportation (WVDOT) was left to clean up this toxic conversation. State Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox said the bridge was inspected in June and guaranteed there was no problem. Brent Walker, director of communications for WVDOT, made his own post, albeit it was verbal, and assured the traveling public that the span was in fine condition.

West Virginia Delegate Scott Cadle fought Facebook with Facebook, and went on the social media site to say the entire situation had taken valuable time from many officials that could have been better used on important projects.

I really hope that was not the case, because I would like to think every DOT communications sector has some sort of social media emergency kit, one where all you have to do is follow the steps before hazmat suits are necessary. If you don’t, then you still must be on AOL and should put something in place immediately. Setting up a Twitter and Facebook page is the first step, and start following and “friending” as many people as possible. Have a prewritten press release handy, one where you can essentially fill in the blanks and blast off to radio and T.V. stations across the region. I can’t say enough about being connected to media outlets on social media, because immediacy is key. 

Of course, if you want to upgrade to the Mercedes-Benz solution you can just install the necessary sensors and create a “living bridge.” The Memorial Bridge, which runs over the Piscataqua River between New Hampshire and Maine, is about to be armed with this nervous system, which I’m sure can be hooked to a variable message board or even social media. This all takes money, which is not readily available these days. Notify your member of Congress. Better yet, give them hell on Facebook. R&B

Bill Wilson
Bill Wilson
Bill Wilson

Bill Wilson is the editorial director of ROADS & BRIDGES magazine and has been covering the industry since 1999. He has won seven Robert F. Boger Awards for editorial excellence, including three in 2011. He also was the creator of the Top 10, Contractor's Choice Awards and Recycling Awards platforms, as well as ROADS & BRIDGES Live.

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