Ronn Torossian, CEO, 5WPR
When public relations historians look back on the early 21st century, it’s likely they will conclude that social media is where people went to commit career suicide. Over and over again, week after week, we see a prominent individual say or do something on social media that significantly damages any good message they may have.
Such is the case of a Florida school board candidate by the name of Kenny Mathis. A former — and by most accounts, well-liked — music teacher, Mathis has been dealing with a string of personal issues over the past year. After leaving his teaching position, Mathis chose to run for school board, where he said he would bring new ideas and new blood to an entrenched political structure.
That message, in and of itself, tends to spark a heated political campaign. Candidates running as “reform” or “difference-maker” candidates will have their past scoured and any chinks in their armor set out on full display by the opposition. That’s all politics as usual, of course. If you stay on message and keep focused, you can generally get past a great deal of skeletons and dirty laundry.
What you can’t do, though, is have a fit on social media then threaten to attack someone. Unfortunately, that’s apparently what Mathis did. An exchange on Facebook Messenger between a former music student and someone using Mathis’ account got heated, and that’s when, according to multiple media reports, the person using Mathis’ account chose to threaten the other party: “Let’s meet face to face!!! Say what you have to say big boy! I have that paddle ready”
Now, that’s pretty tame in comparison to how some very heated social media exchanges can get. But no one really cares much about two guys hashing it out over political differences. However, when a school board candidate seems to be nursing a grudge against a former student, that gives voters pause.
During that “pause,” they tend to do a little more research. When they look at Mathis, a long string of questionable stories bubble to the surface. Voters were treated to an ongoing social media conversation among former students who “shared recollections” of their former teacher’s “hot temper.” Then, other details began to emerge.
Mathis had left his teaching post, possibly, to avoid some other disciplinary action. There was a longstanding beef with the administrations, and several versions of why it started and what it was about. There were rumors and innuendos, defenders and detractors… All-in-all, what had once been a fairly by-the-book political campaign became too juicy to ignore.
So, the questions started. Why did Mathis send that message? Why was he threatening a former student? Should someone with that demeanor be on the school board? What about all the other stories?
Mathis responded by trying to say he was “hacked” by someone, and that he never sent those messages. That story didn’t hold much water, but he stuck to it. Now, Mathis is trying a different tack to repair his reputation: sharing stories from happy students. From a PR standpoint, that certainly has more traction than “It wasn’t me” … although, at this point, the fact that those threats are out there with his name on them will be difficult to overcome.