The Runaway Tow Truck and the Unpredictability of Social Media

The televised high speed pursuit has become an odd form of entertainment for those of us here in Southern California. Five TV networks, all with helicopters, ground units and a team of news anchors narrating every move made by some  driver who thought he could outrun the police. You swear you won’t watch for more than a minute and the next thing you know, two hours have gone by and you’re still glued to the set. Makes you wonder who is crazier, the fleeing motorist or us for watching.

Yesterday, the phenomena took on an even stranger turn when a man in a tow truck led police on a two hour “low speed” pursuit through the streets of Los Angeles. It was rush hour, so he hardly ever moved more than a few miles per hour and like a good driver, he stopped for red lights. He also stopped to chat with fans.

Yes. Fans.

Thanks to social media, the tow truck driver became an instant celebrity. Someone created a Twitter for him (@runawaytowtruck) which has since been suspended and a Facebook page. A Howard Stern fan even called into KTLA news and went on live with a very plausible story about how the whole mess started then ended with a blue punchline that had the audio guy scrambling for the cut off switch.

As the pursuit continued, the news reporters were in a constant state of disbelief over the number of people who approached the driver and cheered him on as he passed. All of this made possible by the immediacy of modern media.

It just goes to show how little it takes to start a fire with social media. Remember the snake that escaped from the zoo? The bad thing about social media wildfires, is that they tend to take off when you would rather they didn’t. This is how a small public misstep can turn into mass exodus of customers or clients. If you’re lucky, it all blows over in a day but for some it’s a career-ender.

The takeaway here is that you can’t control social media. You can nudge it and smooth it and ask it to play nice, but in the end, it’s up to the masses.

So here’s hoping that your next social media wildfire is a good one. If it’s not, simply duck, cover and wait it out. I promise you, by tomorrow, someone else will be in the line of fire and you’ll be in the clear.