How can trust help the #PanamaPapers innocents?

The revelations from the mega-leak of data about the financial shenanigans of the wealthy and powerful, dubbed the #PanamaPapers, continue to roll out globally since the eruption last weekend opened up a Pandora’s Box (what some would call an Aladdin’s Cave) of consequences.

At the heart of this scandal is 2.6 terabytes of data representing some 11 million individual documents about the business and financial affairs of clients of the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca stretching from end-2015 back to the mid 1970s (that’s 40 years worth of information).

The data was leaked to the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung who shared it with the US-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), who subsequently shared their analysis and reporting with 107 media organizations around the world.

The sheer scale of it is staggering.

Panama Papers data comparisons

It’s not hard to agree with those who are calling this the biggest leak of confidential information about anyone, ever, way bigger than Cablegate in 2010 or Edward Snowden’s NSA leak in 2013.

Along with the deluge of reporting across global mainstream media there’s commentary and opinion galore on the social web notably on Twitter. Which is where I spotted a tweet that brings focus to an element of this saga that is pivotal to the survivability of everyone – the guilty and the innocent –  caught up in this scandal.

That element is trust.

The screen shot you see at the top of this page is of a tweet published on April 5 by Mossack Fonseca with the very tongue-in-cheek appeal for locating a lost memory stick (there’s a UK history of this sort of thing). Here’s an embed of the actual tweet:

Except it’s not Mossack Fonseca but a fake account set up to look like it’s Mossack Fonseca. Surely some irony there! The real account handle is @MossackFonseca whereas the parody is @MossackFonseca_ (note the underscore at the end).

I can’t imagine this parody will stay live for much longer as Twitter is likely to stop it unless the owner edits its profile to make clear it’s a parody. Even that may not ensure its survival. (If a takedown does happen, you’ll notice it here when the tweet embed no longer works.)

So what’s this got to do with trust?

It’s a lot to do with belief – your belief that what you see, hear and read about something is true or accurate and the source of that information is someone you feel confident you can trust. Luckily for Mossack Fonseca, the parody Twitter handle is benign so far, ie, there’s nothing there that is revelationary or likely to cause confusion. There’s plenty of the latter all over the mainstream media.

  • Think, too, about collaborative information- reporting and -publishing. The ICIJ report itself is a terrific example. The Wikipedia entry I mentioned earlier is also a good example as Wikipedia is often the first port of call for people searching online. And a Wikipedia entry is often widely used as the primary reference to point to when you amplify news to your social networks. How does Wikipedia do it? There’s a great post on the Wikimedia blog that explains how the #PanamaPapers entry was created and updated so quickly: How a world of volunteers dove into the leaked Panama Papers.

I would imagine that if Mossack Fonseca has public relations counsel working with them, key advice will be to say nothing publicly at the moment. Indeed, I can see no advantage to them in doing that while the maelstrom of revelations arising from the data leak continues to swirl around the globe. Instead, assuming your foundation is legitimate, I’d say crisis communication counsel would be that this is a time of research, listening and planning. The time to talk will come at the right time.

The same applies to the innocents caught up in this scandal (the guilty don’t warrent or deserve such counsel). Transparency and honesty (another word for authenticity) are essential elements in the  conclusion process people go through when deciding whether to trust you. Not a good outcome for the Icelandic (now ex-) prime minister.

It is all about trust. Yet this scandal is so huge, so far reaching and embroiling so many trusted figures in politics and business that you literally reel from the non-stop revelations and allegations this week.

Will anyone be able to recover from this? Really?

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

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