Recovering from Scandals: Twitter Coverage of Oxfam and Save the Children Scandals


We examine Twitter data to assess the impact of media exposes on the reputations of two international nonprofits, Oxfam and Save the Children (STC). Using a random sample of 6794 Tweets, we study the daily gap between positive and negative sentiments expressed towards these organizations. The “unweighted gap” and the “weighted gap” (weighted by the number of followers) of the Twitter handle follow broadly the same trajectory with high fluctuation in response to new negative or positive media stories. Twitter handles with large audiences amplify variability in weighted gap. While Oxfam’s reputation did not fully recover to pre-Haiti levels even 6 months after the scandal, STC’s reputation returned to pre-scandal levels in 8 days, although it fluctuated in response to new revelations. Overall, reputation recovery for both organizations was aided when they received celebrity endorsements and focused public attention on their positive activities, especially by linking to visible global events.

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    Guo and Saxton (2018) found that the attention an organization receives on Twitter is positively correlated with the number of followers it has and the volume of tweets it has sent. Thus, Twitter following is an important metric of an organization’s prominence in the public view.

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    In the context of ORM, brand-related Tweets present a number of challenges to automated sentiment analysis. Many studies note that Tweet polarity, as assessed by machines, does not necessarily correlate with sentiment towards an organization. Tweets may mention a brand but express a sentiment towards a different object or entity (Jiang et al., 2011).

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    This was the original Web site:; Sifter has been discontinued starting September 2018.

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    For example, we excluded commercial Tweets (such as advertising products on sale at Oxfam stores).

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    We realized that the bulk of the Tweets focused on Oxfam and STC; clearly, these scandals had not imposed reputational spillovers on other charities as reflected in the Tweets directed at them. Hence, we decided to focus on Oxfam and STC only and not examine the issue of reputational spillovers.

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    We observed many posts with sarcastic comments. However, a simple retweet (without any added message) typically indicates agreement with or support of the retweeted content. If this content was sarcastic, we coded the Tweet as “negative” (indeed, sarcasm can often only be detected by manual coding). As we demonstrate, our results are robust to the exclusion of retweets, ensuring that our interpretation of these posts does not affect our findings.

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    For a detailed review of various measures of influence on Twitter, see Riquelme and Gonzalez-Cantergiani (2016).

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    Both of these messages are depicted in Fig. 7.

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    There might be an alternative explanation about STC rebound: since neither Cox nor Forsyth was associated with STC at the time of the media expose, the scandal could not be blamed on STC, enabling the quick rebound. However, we would like to note that even in the context of Oxfam, Haiti’s country director, Roland van Hauwermeiren, had left the organization in 2011, well before the scandal broke out. Hence, the key actors accused of inappropriate behavior had left their respective organizations well before 2018. Arguably, the thrust of the scandal was about organizational failure and how internally recognized moral actors allowed their key managers to function in inappropriate ways, and even tried to cover up their behaviors.


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We gratefully acknowledge guidance and help from Chao Guo, Gregory Saxton, Andranik Tumasjan, Javier Borge Holthoefer, Jim Jansen, Kate Starbird, and Stuart Shulman.

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Correspondence to Aseem Prakash.

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Scurlock, R., Dolsak, N. & Prakash, A. Recovering from Scandals: Twitter Coverage of Oxfam and Save the Children Scandals. Voluntas 31, 94–110 (2020).

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  • Nonprofit scandals
  • Reputation
  • Social media
  • Twitter