Beware of the Keyboard Incident Commander

In our last article we discussed how my agency’s use of Social Media made an amazing impact for our community during the holidays. Over the last year or so we’ve also touched slightly on negative aspects that can accompany the use of Social Media. In this article we’ll dive into two of these potentially negative aspects — the “Keyboard Incident Commander” (KIC for short) and the “Internet Troll” (Troll for short).



The KIC can be found, primarily, within the fire service and comments on fire related pictures, videos and incident summaries. Within our profession there is no shortage of firefighters that are confident in their abilities, skillsets and knowledge and many feel the need to share this with the rest of us — in the form of opinions and comments on our social media posts. Essentially the KIC is another term for an Arm Chair Quarterback or Monday Morning Quarterback. We’re all guilty of being a KIC — even myself. However, as a Public Information Officer, it is important that you identify and minimize opportunities that a KIC could take over your well intentioned social media post. Their posts could bring into question your agency’s ability to respond to and or mitigate an incident; unfortunately, your customer could be the one questioning after they read what the KIC has to say.

As many have experienced first-hand with our personal social media accounts; people can be rather bold and opinionated in what they post/comment on others’ accounts. Social Media portals give us a vehicle to comment and respond relatively anonymously, bolder and more aggressive than we would in person.  Arguments often follow some of these comments which can lead to an increase in anxiety. So much so that the Pew Research Center performed a study on social media arguments.  According to the Pew study, 60 percent of those interviewed found social media arguments to be extremely stressful. Pew also discovered that only one in five people (20 percent) changed their mind or opinion following a social media argument. Although this is not a very good success rate, nothing positive seems to result from a social media argument.

The Troll

An “Internet Troll” is someone whose sole purpose is to create discord on your page with your followers; he or she may make inflammatory comments, start arguments, or offer wild opinions in the hopes of provoking an emotional response from you or your followers. They’re instigators and their main modus operandi is to cause distress and frustration. Many use non-traceable social media accounts — often with a generic picture and bio. Experts believe that a troll’s actions can be a form of cyber harassment, often using verbal, social and emotional abuse as tools of their trade. The best way to reduce the impact of a troll is to ignore them and not engage them. Engagement is what they want, with emotional engagement their ultimate goal. Don’t feed the troll is the best advice. However, if you feel you must respond to a troll, it’s best to quiet them with kindness, respond gracefully and respectfully, even if they don’t reciprocate (fyi…they won’t). According to a YouGov poll, millennial men are the most likely to engage in online trolling.

KIC versus TROLL

A KIC is very different than that of an Internet Troll. While the troll’s sole purpose is to hurt and bully, the KIC means well in their posts. Although many may perceive a KIC’s post to be an arrogant comment – if the shoe was on the other foot, there is almost certainty that something could be identified on that alternate fire scene as well. Why? Because NO fire scene is perfect; after all we are talking about an emergency incident, fire scenes are fast paced and dynamic environments.

So, why am I discussing this topic? As a PIO, I have experienced KIC’S and trolls on my agency’s social media accounts. The trolls are fairly easy to manage, as mentioned previously — don’t engage them. I have engaged trolls in the past, as we all have, and I learned the hard way. Many of my customers’ instantly discredit the troll — mainly due to what and how the troll is posting. It’s the KICs that you should be on the lookout for. Their comments come in various forms. From individuals offering tactical response opinions on how the fire department could have responded differently to the incident depicted to arguing with each other on who has more experience. While we all appreciate constructive criticism; what do our customers’ think when they read these KIC posts? Never lose sight of who our customers are: They’re our residents, visitors, sister agencies, fellow employees and even our community leaders. As a PIO, we cannot afford to let these posts distract or ruin our reputation. A well intentioned social media post can be derailed quickly by a KIC questioning your agency’s ability to mitigate an incident. Imagine what your town manager, mayor or council members would think reading these posts. 

Protecting Against the KIC

So how do you protect yourself from becoming the target of KICs? The solution is simple — don’t give them the material. Our success as PIOs relies on our ability to post material frequently on our social media accounts. Our customers love content, especially content with media attached (photos, videos etc.). So, this is where you have to get crafty and earn your money as the PIO. You need to find a balance, one that satisfies your customers with content, but also doesn’t draw the attention of Trolls or KICs. It’s taken some time to perfect our approach, but it has worked for the majority of the time. Here’s my approach:

  • Keep content to a minimum. When discussing an incident, stick with the facts, keep it brief and relevant. Don’t offer up any extraneous information. There is a saying in the PIO world: Be brief. Be brilliant. Be gone.
  • Share Media from the scene tape. I learned this long ago from a veteran PIO. Share media (photos, video) from the ordinary witness perspective (the fire scene tape). Always use some sort of apparatus in the foreground, with the active incident in the background. It allows your customer to see their capital purchase in action, while also sharing the emergency incident you are informing about.
  • Stay out of the weeds. Do not get too deep into fire scene tactics as this almost always invites critique, which is quickly followed by the trolls and the KICs. Besides, your main customers won’t understand what you’re talking about anyway and if the trolls and KICs show up they may undermine you.
  • Be very careful using live, scene video. You can’t control everything you film live. What if the firefighter in the background decides to not wear an SCBA on the roof during ventilation or while extinguishing a car fire. What if you accidentally film someone in violation of Department or OSHA policy? Remember, you’re filming a dynamic scene. I like to film video on scene and then review the video BEFORE I release it. I save Facebook LIVE and Periscope for the softer side of the business, like training, fire prevention, scene briefings and or presentations.
  • Use extreme caution posting helmet cam videos. I’ve always avoided these videos on our department accounts, they are ripe targets for trolls and KICs. If you do decide to use video like this, I recommend a thorough review of the content prior to releasing. Released video that depicts violations of policy, SOGs could result in liability, troll and KIC activity. They peruse the Internet for material like this.

Coach Your Employees

Last, but certainly not least, make sure you take the time to coach your fellow employees. The fire service is a brotherhood and there exists a tremendous amount of pride and ownership and members can be easily offended when they see a troll or KIC post on the department’s social media accounts, especially if they were part of the incident. The best approach for them is to not comment or participate. Now this can be extremely difficult — but the less engagement the better.

Remember: Do Not Feed the Troll!


Twitter: @huntersville_fd

Twitter: @BPSuthard

Twitter: @CarolinaBhood

Twitter: @CFD_Alarm


Bill Suthard is a Firefighter/EMT and Public Information Officer (PIO) for the Huntersville Fire Department. Suthard also works for the Charlotte Fire Department where he is currently assigned as a supervisor within their communications division and helps to manage the division’s public information and Social Media accounts. He is also a member of and the PIO for the Carolina Brotherhood Ride. #CBH18

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