Is being right legitimate? Addressing public outcries on social media

Publikation: Bidrag til tidsskriftTidsskriftartikelForskningpeer review


With the advent of social media, organisations have had to face new realities in their exposure to public condemnation and ridicule. Thus, social media provide publics with instant access to voicing disapproval of organizational behaviour, potentially leading to long-term negative effects on organizational image and earnings (Holmgreen 2015, forthcoming). This realisation forms the background of the article which discusses the apparent clash between organisational legitimisation strategies, which seek to justify actions through reference to their just, reasonable and appropriate character, and the joint public evaluation of the very same conduct as being inappropriate and immoral (Breton & Côté 2006; Suchman 1995; Vaara & Tienari 2008). Drawing on a critical discourse approach to legitimation (Fairclough 2003; Rojo and Van Dijk 1997; Van Leeuwen 2008), the article analyses the case of a Danish steakhouse chain whose legal actions against a smaller restaurant owner in 2014 spurred a public outcry and firestorm on social media, leading to the chain’s imminent closure four years later. The data of the analysis consist of a corpus of press releases and public social media comments in the months following the announcement of the court case, which ruled in favour of the steakhouse. The analysis reveals the existence of two overall and distinctly different discourses that reflect basic social and cultural values, on the one hand, and market and business values, on the other. Thus, the analysis suggests that despite the existence of a shared social system based on the rule of law, organizational and public (legitimation) strategies may follow apparently irreconcilable paths that challenge the very foundation of business, not only by questioning the legitimacy of corporate actions but also by uniting publics in joint discursive action against perceived culprits. This insight combined with the instant character of social media calls for vigilance in communicating organisational affairs to the public.
TidsskriftDiscourse, Context & Media
Sider (fra-til)1-8
StatusUdgivet - mar. 2021
BegivenhedAssociation of Business Communication Spain - Universidad de Alcalá, Alcalá de Henares, Spanien
Varighed: 11 jul. 201813 jul. 2018


KonferenceAssociation of Business Communication Spain
LokationUniversidad de Alcalá
ByAlcalá de Henares


  • social media
  • publics
  • firestorm
  • discourse
  • organisation
  • organisational behaviour

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