The City of Edmonton recently floated a test ad for a potential campaign encouraging pedestrian safety in the city but the idea it suggested overwhelmingly flunked in terms of the response it got on social media.
As part of its annual Heads Up campaign, the city shared a test ad with the Edmonton Insight Community which called for pedestrians to don reflective material to help prevent them from being hit by a vehicle. The ad shows one pedestrian wearing reflective tape and another carrying a flashlight.
The ad was the subject of swift online backlash on social media with many people posting they thought the city was blaming pedestrians for collisions involving vehicles.
Now, only a couple of days after it was introduced, the public service announcement is being dropped and some say it’s a sign of how much power social media wields in our society these days.
“I think the problem with the world right now being so hyper-connected, is we tend to overreact,” Edmonton-area technology expert David Papp said, adding he believed there could have been an effort put into addressing the criticism instead of just dropping the campaign. “I think people just are too quick to say things online.
“It’s too easy to hide behind a keyboard and things tend to get over-inflated compared to what they actually are.”
The test ad was part of the City of Edmonton’s Vision Zero campaign, a city initiative geared at eliminating fatalities and serious injuries on city streets.
Between 2010 and 2014, October saw more pedestrian collisions than any other month, according to city statistics. The city said one-third of pedestrian collisions occurred between September and November.
A local bicycle shops says the PSA actually brought up some valid advice for people to take on the roads.
“You want to have the reflection for safety,” United Cycle’s Beto Bustos said. “It does make difference. It’s an awareness of people driving – as soon as you see the light – like, ‘Whoa, what’s going on? There’s a pedestrian in there.'”
Coun. Andrew Knack said he believes the PSA was simply misunderstood and that means the city was right to drop it as it wouldn’t have provided an effective means of communicating its message.
“I think it got a bit too much attention saying the city is starting this pedestrian-blaming campaign,” Knack said. “That was never the point. The point was to test the content of the ads and see what people thought. It wasn’t popular.”
Bustos said the reflective gear’s visibility is undeniable, adding that some products allow a person to still be clearly seen at night from up to 150 metres away.
Papp said the social media age is not just accelerating public reactions to ideas, but also amplifying them much more than before Facebook and Twitter got online.
“I don’t think we would have been upset,” he said. “There would have been some letters to the editor and stuff like that, but I don’t think you would have had the snowball effect that occurs.”
-with files from Vinesh Pratap and Caley Ramsay