Internet as an Effective Medium of Propaganda

With the Internet being used as an effective medium to mortify people, mishandling labor-management disputes could sometimes put the managements [...]

October 10 2008 by Fayazuddin A Shirazi


With the Internet being used as an effective medium to mortify people, mishandling labor-management disputes could sometimes put the managements to sheer public embarrassment. This is overtly demonstrated by the recent web based assault on United Airlines CEO Glenn Tilton.

Rocked with rising fuel prices, United Airlines recently refused to renew job contracts of about 950 pilots. In a retaliatory move, the rebel pilots have launched an Internet battle seeking the CEO’s resignation by publicly defaming him.

Writing for his blog, My Three Cents, Ken Makovsky, President of Makovsky + Company, a global independent public relations firm, says escalating charges and countercharges are not unusual in labor-management disputes, but by launching a website “Glenn Tilton Must Go the United Airlines Pilots have demonstrated how web space is being used to embarrass managements.

Commenting further on his blog post titled Using the Internet as an Employee Weapon“, Makovsky describes how the dissident employees of the airlines took to mud-slinging operations against their own CEO. “This is a story of how the Internet has been used as a weapon by employees to publicly embarrass a CEO,” Makovsky wrote in his opening remarks in his blog.

It was no surprise that United Airlines pilots reacted – loudly – to UAL Corp.’s refusal to negotiate a new contract and the company’s announcement of plans to eliminate 950 pilot jobs and ground some aircraft to help offset the rising cost of fuel, says Makovsky.

The pilots union countercharged that the airline’s poor maintenance was responsible for four recent aircraft engine failures. They also charge Tilton neglected day-to-day operations for two years, while he attempted to engineer mergers with Delta, Continental and US Airways.

The new website highlights the carrier’s poor operational and financial performance, encourages passengers to report any problems they’ve had while flying on United and demands Tilton’s immediate resignation.

“Readers have responded. Gerry Braun, a San Diego Union-Tribune reporter, for example, tells the tale of a family unceremoniously bumped off a flight the mother had booked six months in advance so that her grown children could visit their dying father in a hospice just once before he died of cancer,” writes Makovsky.

Interestingly, some of the allegations made by the rebel pilots apparently are true supported by a NY Times report commenting on the airlines’ declining performance. “United had the second-worst on-time rate in June, with 59.3 percent of flights arriving at scheduled times. Over all, the nation’s airlines were on time more often in June compared with a year ago,” the NY Times report said quoting U.S Transportation Department.

The United pilots union also cited a recent survey conducted by United showing that only 38 percent of United employees took pride in United, down 15 percentage points from 2006, the NY Times report said.

Even though there is no official word from the UAL against the rebel employees’ misdemeanor, Makovsky believes the website strategy employed by the union has served its purpose. “Tilton has, no doubt, lost support among his employees and the public. The speed of destruction was enabled by the Internet and is there for a long time to come for everyone to see. Years ago it might have been a one shot press release covered once in the print and broadcast media,” Makovsky remarked.