“Controversy is a double-edged sword”

Networks love a Reality TV controversy, but how do they deal with social media vitriol?

From The Briefcase to Seven Year Switch, Bride & Prejudice to The Bachelor and Australia’s Next Top Model, reality TV is notorious for manipulating its participants, milking every controversial moment dry and pimping it on social media.

So where do they draw the line, and how seriously do they take their duty of care?

Yesterday Nine’s Head of Content, Production & Development Adrian Swift told the Australian International Documentary Conference that while Television respects lines in the sand, social media took things much further.

“The benefit of social media is that it mostly talks about television,” he said.

“Controversy is great to a point and we love the fact that the smallest things create the biggest controversies in social media.

“But controversy is a function on the medium in which it is delivered.

“We are controversial on Television, but I don’t think in a way that fundamentally contravenes moral boundaries or our duty of care to our contributors.

“Yet on social media these things catch fire and become vicious. The conundrum for us is that something on television that is just extraordinary and worthy of comment…. on social media becomes something quite different. ”

Swift said often networks will work behind the scenes to diffuse social media spotfires, especially for its participants who are copping the brunt of the vitriol due to their narrative.

“Sometimes we have to hose it down.

“It happens to Q&A as much as it happens to Married at First Sight, where a perfectly valid point gets completely out of control on social media.

“Yes, we often suggest they don’t watch social media because it’s incredibly destructive. But we also spend time deleting comments on our forums where we have control.

“But with Married or The Voice you’re getting 2000 posts a minute, so you can’t control it.”

On the current season of Married at First Sight, racecaller Anthony has been subjected to a backlash because of his misogynistic comments. But Swift said they were comments he made when the cameras were rolling.

“He’s been horribly trolled on Twitter and Facebook,” he said.

“But he knows what he said and he hasn’t said he’s been misrepresented. But he did say ‘I feel very uncomfortable with the way this is playing out, but I understand it’s what I said.’

“The conversation we did end up having was ‘How can we minimise all that?’

“So we ended up not posting the negative questions (on social media), such as ‘What do you think about what Anthony said?’ All those things that would set fire to the conversation, we shut down.

“But the basic tenet of all these shows is that we are not there to generate controversy by misrepresentation -but we are there to generate controversy and we make it very clear that the cameras are there.”


3 Responses

  1. Sounds to me that they want all the advantages of social media (e.g. cheap access to a wide audience, etc) without any of the disadvantages (e.g having to go to added effort to control the narrative, people discussing things that are not them, etc). Much like they wish they had free spectrum, no regulation, no 18C, etc…

    I remember saying publicly 20+ years ago, back when the print & TV media first started grudgingly acknowledging the Internet (we still gave it a capital “I” back then!), that they wanted to convert it into something like the newspapers, magazines, & broadcast that they already understood & controlled. Seems like they’re still trying to push the narrative that public discussion without their steady reassuring hand is a bad thing…

  2. “So we ended up not posting the negative questions (on social media), such as ‘What do you think about what Anthony said?’ All those things that would set fire to the conversation, we shut down.”
    “The conversation we did end up having was ‘How can we minimise all that?”
    Hmmm, can’t agree.
    The Channel 9 Married at First Sight Facebook site features quite a few headers featuring inflammatory quotes and comments by some of the more controversial contestants. Quotes and pics showing Andrew saying to Cheryl “You’re so full of Sh*t eh?” and Anthony calling Nadia “frigid” seem posted in a very calculating way . That is, to whip up the maximum amount of hate and indignation on social media. Hardly trying to minimise negative perceptions of those participants…
    Having said that, if Anthony and Andrew hadn’t been acting like massive tools there wouldn’t be such a negative perception of them by Social Media in the first place.

  3. Tweeters should realize that Twitter can be manipulated by trolls paid to keep conversations bubbling along in the right direction and that supervisors can shut down the feed when it heads in the wrong direction. You could be replying to a tweet sent by a Psychologist or # I_am_a_Robot. Ch 9 must hope that tweeters don’t compose their replies during an ad break.

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