(Source: The Wrap)

The PR battle between the FBI and Apple of last year might have caught your attention. At least it did catch the attention of the media. So what happened? Basically the FBI needed help from the famous Tech company to unlock the iPhone of the San Berdino shooter. A total of 14 people got killed in this act of violence. The media  tends to frame acts of violence by Islamic suspects as terrorist attacks. This magic news label always seems to make news issues even more salient to the public, which could explain why this issue got so much attention over other violent crime issues. Anyway, Apple refused to help the FBI. This is when the quarrel began: The FBI got angry at Apple in public, and most Americans supported the FBI in this dispute. Apple has experienced many PR crises, but this one is particularly interesting because they chose a different PR strategy than they usually would. I will talk about how Apple coped with this crisis and which lessons we can learn from it  below!

Even though Apple experts had already offered assistance to FBI investigators. This did not prevent the FBI from getting pissed off and attacking Apple in the media eventually. Why? Because Apple refused to build a version of iOS that would crack the iPhone of a terrorist. Through their PR warfare, the FBI manages to create a negative public opinion towards Apple. How? Well, by applying an emotional appeal in their PR strategy.  This crisis communication strategy is described in a study by van der Meer and Verhoeven – emotional appeals have the ability to guide public response and can affect decision-making by the public during crisis situations. A smart move, because the public DID make a decision based on the emotional appeals that were spread by the FBI. The public went negative on social media fueled by anger and fear. Anger because they believed Apple is not showing empathy for the victims of the San Berdino attacks and fear because people feel like they are not being protected from terrorists.

(Source: Iconist)

Instead of replying to the negative public opinion on social media – a channel which’s efficiency for PR purposes should be critically assessed as Valentini mentions in her study – Apple chose to use different PR battle tactics: Ratio and transparency. How? Well, starting out with posting an open letter  on their website written by CEO Tim Cook. In this letter Cook mainly presented factual arguments in favor of privacy of customers: “Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.”

A smart move as this strategy, known as the rational thinking component of cognitive coping, can help the public to cope with their negative emotions. A mechanism that is backed by several empirical studies (Duchachek or Jin). Apple’s move is also backed by people in the industry: “If there is a public opinion that is negative, the way you deal with it is get out there with the information and the facts and begin getting the people to understand why they are doing it” – Tim Bajaran, Tech consultant.

So what’s your take home point? Try not to get into a fight with the FBI, but hey! If you do, try to be transparent and use factual arguments towards your stakeholders.

Lubna Rezzoug (25) is a Master of Communication Science student at the UvA. She is currently writing a thesis on the effects of sponsorship disclosures on Instagram. She enjoys being a volunteer at Stichting Vluchtelingenwerk. Where she teaches Syrian refugees the Dutch language. She enjoys travelling to remote areas, eating delicious food and she loves to sing!



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