After hearing concerns from members about the new Peter Rabbit movie, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America leapt into action, sparking a discussion on food allergy bullying that went viral. AAFA shared what it learned from the experience.
Peter Rabbit hit theaters on Friday, February 9, and within hours of its release, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America started seeing disgruntled parents commenting about a particular scene on its Facebook pages and members-only forums. Melanie Carver, VP of digital strategy and community services at AAFA, watched as the volume of comments picked up and she started to receive emails.
“That’s when I realized it was a bigger issue than just a couple of people talking about it,” she said.
The scene in contention depicts Peter and his forest friends attacking Mr. McGregor with blackberries. Mr. McGregor, who is allergic to blackberries, starts experiencing anaphylaxis and injects himself with epinephrine.
“There are many reasons why this is problematic, but the main reason is that it can reinforce the misconception that food allergies are ‘no big deal’ and lead to attitudes and behaviors that can be dangerous to people with food allergies,” Carver wrote in a LinkedIn article.
To address these concerns, AAFA issued a warning to parents on its Kids with Food Allergies Facebook page that same day. Then, on Saturday, AAFA sent a letter to Sony Pictures to express its concerns. By Sunday, the company apologized.
Looking back on the experience, Carver shared a few lessons AAFA learned:
Listen to your members. “[Our members] were the ones that elevated this to our attention,” she said. “And then we were able to take action and help coordinate it, so I think it is very important to listen to the people you serve.”
Act quickly. Even though this scenario occurred over the weekend, AAFA felt that it was important to address fairly quickly, especially since that’s when a lot of families head to the movies. “If you’re able to listen to your constituents and able to take action, they’re actually more likely to be engaged immediately,” Carver said. “If you wait too long, either they may think that you’re not listening … or that you don’t have interest in participating.”
Prepare in advance. It’s important to be ready for moments like this in advance. “If you know that you’re sharing something controversial, it’s really important that you have your position and talking points in place in advance and have a plan to communicate in a non-inflammatory way, because you know that there will be people who have a negative response to what you’re sharing,” she said.
Rethink your policies. While AAFA typically has a “don’t feed the trolls; ignore them” policy, in this situation, internet trolls started attacking AAFA’s followers and constituents. “We had to be more aggressive at managing the trolls on this issue,” Carver said. “There were many where we took the line of ‘If you step over this line, we’ll ban and delete you.’”
Offer solutions. Along with pointing out the problem, Carver said it’s equally important to offer solutions. In this case, AAFA offered what parents and children can learn from the scene, and they even produced a discussion guide that parents can use when talking to their children.