Let's All Talk About The Stuff That UC Davis Spent $175k Trying To Keep Off These Internets

from the paging-babs dept

As you’ll probably recall, back in late 2011 a group of UC Davis students held a protest on campus as part of the Occupy movement. The lasting memory from that protest was one UC Davis police officer casually strolling past a line of students seated in a row and cavalierly spraying pepper spray directly into their faces. Even though this happened half a decade ago, let’s all talk about it again now, because UC Davis recently revealed it spent $175,000 trying to make sure we wouldn’t.

The payments were made as the university was trying to boost its image online and were among several contracts issued following the pepper-spray incident. Some payments were made in hopes of improving the results computer users obtained when searching for information about the university or Katehi, results that one consultant labeled “venomous rhetoric about UC Davis and the chancellor.”

Others sought to improve the school’s use of social media and to devise a new plan for the UC Davis strategic communications office, which has seen its budget rise substantially since Katehi took the chancellor’s post in 2009. Figures released by UC Davis show the strategic communications budget increased from $2.93 million in 2009 to $5.47 million in 2015.

Those funds, spent by a public university, mind you, were spent in the wake of the pepper spraying incident specifically to reformulate the image of UC Davis by obfuscating search results, web mentions of the incident, and by crafting a deluge of other UC Davis content that was decidedly more brand-friendly. But, hey, are you still confused as to what incident we’re talking about here? Maybe this video of the incident will help jog your memory.

What should be readily apparent to you by now is that trying to bury factual if unfortunate history by hiring so-called brand reputation groups works about as well as trying to cover up your inability to cook a decent meal by dumping chocolate icing on everything you make. Sure, icing is good, but you still burnt that bone-in ribeye, you fool.

More importantly, in true Streisand Effect fashion, the attempted coverup of the incident now has us all discussing it again. And not only discussing the incident, but multiplying information about the incident, and footage of it, throughout the internet.

It’s probably time for at least our institutions of higher learning to understand that using reputation management companies, paying them thousands of dollars, is the least effective way to respond to a bad PR incident. Even outside PR voices are shaking their heads at UC Davis’ actions.

“I would say that it is common for an individual who might be applying for a job or an individual who has been wrongly maligned to go to a company like Reputation.com, but for a public university that is funded through taxpayer funds, who has repeatedly stepped into a vast hole, it is surprising that they thought this could be done without the light of day shining on the act,” said Doug Elmets, a Sacramento public affairs consultant. “It is one more example of how out of touch the leadership at UC Davis is when it comes to their public perspective.”

Interestingly, as a result of some actions taken by Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, students are once again protesting, occupying the areas around her office and insisting they won’t leave until she has resigned. It should be interesting to see if the school put as much money and effort into reforming campus policing as they did in trying to cleanse the internet of its history.

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Comments on “Let's All Talk About The Stuff That UC Davis Spent $175k Trying To Keep Off These Internets”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Reputation/brand management companies...

…are ALL scams. Many of them are run by the same kind of vermin as spammers, spyware purveyors, surveillance software operators, Prenda, etc. These people exploit the naive and stupid for massive profits — which begs the question of how an allegedly smart institution like UC Davis could piss away $175K. Do they also respond to Nigerian princes?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Not just least effective

using reputation management companies, paying them thousands of dollars, is the least effective way to respond to a bad PR incident.

Personally, whenever I see that someone has hired a reputation management company — especially an online one — the message that I get is that they have done something truly horrible that they are trying to cover up.

So the mere involvement of such companies is not just ineffective, it’s counterproductive.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Not just least effective

It would have been smarter to acknowledge the incident, apologise, and learn the lesson than to try to cover it up. I’ve got a lot more faith in people who admit they did wrong than in people who pretend they did nothing wrong.

“We fire cops who behave this way” is a better response than impression of Bart Simpson “I didn’t do it.”

Anonymous Coward says:

A sign of the times

To the people that said “I thought you were supposed to protect us!” & “who do you protect?”

The Police do not protect you or anyone, they are there to ONLY enforce the law!

In fact the Supreme Court has already made it clear that the police are not obligated to assist you in an emergency!

Go ahead, keep trying to destroy the 2nd… the police state will eventually show you why we need it!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: A sign of the times

Their oath says something else but then again it’s just an oath which does not mean anything in the eyes of the law.

“On my honor,
I will never betray my badge,
my integrity, my character,
or the public trust.
I will always have the courage
to hold myself and others
accountable for our actions.
I will always uphold the Constitution,
the community,
and the agency I serve,
so help me God.

Anonymous Coward says:

I think it was best said…

If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging. ~ Will Rogers

Secondly if you have to use a reputation management company to attempt to increase the favorability of your reputation, then you are doing it wrong. So many shady types have tried to adjust the internet reputation through this manner, just going this route leaves a less than favorable opinion.

Mainly because you haven’t done the necessary to cause people to believe you. Instead of taking the easy way that doesn’t work, the initiators almost always leave out the important first step of evaluation change and then executing it to fix the issue.

Zonker says:

Huffington Post reports that UC Davis spent a great deal more than just $175,000 over the pepper spray incident:

In all, UC Davis has funneled millions toward its problem. Here’s a breakdown:

$980,000 — In 2012, a settlement was reached to pay 21 students $30,000 each, pay $250,000 to their lawyers, and set aside an extra $100,000 in case more plaintiffs joined the class action.

Note that more than a quarter of the funds went to the lawyers.

$175,000 — In 2013, UC Davis hired various consultants to improve the university’s search results online and boost its image.

What we’re talking about here.

$38,055 — Two years after the incident, Lt. Pike was awarded workers compensation for psychiatric damage.

Lt. Pike was the pepper spray cop. Here I thought that workers compensation didn’t cover preexisting conditions.

$2,540,000 — The Bee found that the university increased its strategic communications budget from $2.93 million in 2009 to $5.47 million in 2015, in part so that the “reputation of the university is fairly portrayed.”

Almost double your commumications budget in six years largely to improve your reputation after the pepper spray incident.

An unknown amount of money spent while Pike and former police Chief Annette Spicuzza were on paid administrative leave.

The officers involved were rewarded for their efforts with an all expenses paid vacation. That will put a quick end to such malfeasance by bad cops in the future.

Zonker says:

Re: Re:

And notice that none of this obscene amount of money was spent on retraining their officers on the proper use of force, especially when the MK-9 pepper spray device was not an authorized weapon under UCDPD guidelines, none of their officers received proper training in its use, and it was used by Lt. Pike incorrectly (minimum safe distance of 6 feet for one thing).

klaus says:

Re: Re:

I hadn’t – that’s internet memes for you, they get old quickly, but they never go away. They’re powerful; one click and they’re back. Although I’m a continent away, the image of that twat pepper-spraying a row of seated students right in the face is seared in my memory like a brand on a cow’s arse.

UC Davis is a mess. It’s been a mess for a while and by the look of things, it’s only getting worse. Katehi is a disgrace to the human race.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Power still causes a form of brain damage.
Protecting the image of the school and its chancellor trumps reality. We can keep throwing money at things to make them go away, there is no way anyone will remember the assaults, the flip-flopping, the overblown reactions leading up to that moment when it appears the school and its leadership were offended that their lessers would make demands and think they would get them heard & acted upon.

This event was just a culmination of a series of events when those with power thought they could control reality, and took extreme measures to remove any threat to their control.

Anonymous Coward says:

Thanks for the reminder, UC Davis

I remember that asshole with the spray. Didn’t he say he felt “trapped”? And didn’t the courts take his word? ‘ Didn’t another court give him $40K or something for DISTRESS? What a sissy. NO YOU DIDN’T FEEL TRAPPED JERK!. IT’S ON VIDEO ASSHOLE!. You held up and brandished that spray like a weapon, then sprayed those poor students you were supposed to protect IN THE FACE.

You coward. Sad day.

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