Whenever a new form of media comes along the early adopters are often naive about what they can and can’t do and are trusting, some might say complacent, about the consequences of ‘putting themselves out there!’  Of course in the early days there is an element of security through obscurity but trends take off and as the money men come in so all profitable angles become important with advertising is one of the most paramount of all.  In the old days marketers had to position their wares based on a large demographic such as people watching a certain television program or reading a certain newspaper, which often encompassed a wide and diverse set of people.  This also cost a lot of money, both to employ people to come up with the campaign and then in order to put the campaign somewhere, the more prominent the more costly.  However the Internet has revolutionised advertising by making ads more readily available and at far lower cost, in fact you could argue it is the democratisation of advertising, after all you receive ads more targeted to things in which you have already actively or passively expressed an interest.  You can even make ads yourself, or show your approval of ads from others.

Facebook has long since been regarded as something of a corporate battleground, we complained about the ads long ago and then complained about the metadata being used to target or attribute to them we bewailed the obvious snooping angles through this data being kept somewhere who knows where and accessible to who knows whom.  Now the reluctant acceptance of the widespread of data and personal information is almost complete, ‘we may not like it but after all what are we going to do?’  Today if you are not careful not only can you be traced via backdoor means but by the very open actions of your own friends and often you yourself.  What is worse is that you may have put your date of birth, phone number, email address, where you work, where you used to work and where you went to school (often used as a security question).  You may even have befriended your family (Mother’s maiden name very often used as a security question) and/or told people about your pet (name often used as a security question).  In addition to this you may have linked your twitter account, your linkedn account and used your Facebook account to log into all sorts of services. Did you turn off friends tagging you in their pictures or status updates, did you stop people tagging you in pictures that reveal where you were and when or with whom, or worse still where you might be and when?  What is on your public profile, visible to the whole world?  But this entry is not directly about Facebook and your personal security, this is about what you actively do believing you are acting for the right reasons and the consequences that these actions may increasingly have as a result of a new culture in pernicious advertising.

The recent furore surrounding the Emma Watson and 4Chan affair is a high profile case in point.  Long before I knew anything of the matter in origin I had seen innumerable posts decrying the actions of one party, expressing outrage that Emma Watson’s views should have caused such a disgraceful backlash and soundly lambasting the supposed perpetrator who appeared to be acting in some form of both spite and blackmail.  The ‘one party’ attacked was in fact a bulletin board community, thus it is rather like attacking Facebook for a user threatening to do something that isn’t illegal, good luck with that.  Whatever one may think of online communities, bulletin boards, dark internet etc. the fact is that it has hirthto been largely under the radar of the corporates.  This is clearly all about to change.

In order to infiltrate the new potential user base such things offer new strategies must be adopted, new ways to get information out there quickly and build user profiles in order to do so quicker still.  The traditional media remains quite passive in that it requires people specifically going to it and therefore are likely to be stored in the system somewhere already.  The new generation are more savvy and obtain and share their information and pursuits in different ways however some of those more prominent have already started to become more mainstream, the success of sites such as 38 Degrees and Avaaz has already been replicated by many of the international charities in order to harness armchair people power to promote and support their causes, this has shown a method of campaign proliferation that is far more active like a sort of idea crowd-surfing.  What this has shown a great deal of the time is that nothing spreads more like wildfire than moral outrage.  Indeed the speed with which some information goes around it makes Chinese Whispers look like the best way to obtain your news.  The trouble with this is that as with Chinese Whispers it is very difficult to tell what has been conflated/misinterpreted/misheard/reworded where and by whom and even were you to be able to do so by the time you had got to the bottom of it the message would have gone several stages further and your attempts to correct it would no longer be valid because they would not in effect have any relevance to what the message at that point was.  It would be rather like saying that homo erectus would actually have been better off with a tail after all.

The Emma Watson affair has made what would otherwise be a low-level exposure bulletin board very prominent and in a negative light, it remains to be seen what reach this will have for all associated with it but certainly it will be being trawled for information about its users and what they might be up to as we speak.  It has brought forward what appears on the surface to be a fictitious marketing company, this will only further increase speculation and keep public focus that little bit longer than if people were to really find out what or who was behind it all no matter how big or small they might have been.  Finally the only exposure that has actually happened has been that Emma Watson’s speech on feminism and equality has come to greater attention than i otherwise might have done which is a consolation.  Whether this was in any way intended (has everyone assumed automatically it wasn’t?) but it is something upon which to feel all was not entirely negative and assuages some people as to their haste to condemn as they will be able to cast their opinions over the very cause and effect of the whole affair and what it says about us as a society – herewith Exhibit A!

However it is not by any means an isolated example, nor is it the only method of publicising that which might otherwise be seen less favourably or be more obscure.  There are more forces than corporate money men involved.  The Emma Watson affair is my first conscious view of the use of people’s opposition to something to distribute widely but the use of people’s wish to affirm has been around for a while.

There has been a spate of seemingly uncontentious posts by a far-right group in England called Britain First (the clue is somewhat in the name really isn’t it?!) which advocates a number of singularly unpleasant policies and generally seeks to propagate them in an inflammatory manner such as turning up at mosques and holding hostile protests against Islam about which they appear to know very little and declaiming Christianity about which they appear to know only marginally more.  This is not anything especially new for the far-right and were that merely the extent of their action they would be marginalised severely by the fact that much of Britain’s mainstream political parties espouse the sort of nationalism that in the 1970s would have represented that of derided extremists the National Front, then seen as a group of fascist skinheads and thugs.  Fascists no longer wear the same uniform as one another and have blended far more into the mainstream political landscape across Europe as a whole and their appeal is broadening.  What Britain First have either cleverly or inadvertently done is to promulgate their existence with what look like innocuous positive affirmations such as supporting troops abroad, using the poppy symbol synonymous with the Royal British Legion and World War veterans (sad irony to have a fascist, nationalist party use a symbol for those who fought to oppose fascism and nationalism), even down to opposing animal rights abuses.  All the sorts of things that people might say “Who could possibly be against that…?”  Precisely, so why is there the need to share it?  Is it perhaps because to not do so implies you might be or be a supporter of “them [insert demon of the week here].”  Because really the implied suffix of the “Who could be against that...” question is “…unless you are one of them [insert aforementioned demon].”  And it is this that makes people share it in an effort to ensure no-one thinks that they might be one of “them.” (not that I’ve anything against “them” you understand, some of my friends are “them…!”)

One of Britain First’s particularly loathsome but widely-publicised efforts was to commandeer the death of soldier Lee Rigby who was murdered in the street in South East London by religious extremists.  Britain First used this event to their own islamophobic ends until Lee Rigby’s mother, Lyn complained publicly saying that the party did not represent her son’s views in the slightest and that he would and she was appalled by the way his cause had been hijacked.

“Well yet again can anymore heartbreak be thrown at me and my family, so heartbroken tonight. Electoral commission phoned saying that a party in Wales has stood for election in the European parliament named Britain First using Lee’s name to promote their party and some fucker from the commission allowed it to go through but [they] cannot take any action till after the election which is held on my sons anniversary of his murder. Their views are not what Lee believed in and has no support from the family. Their will be a family apology from the electoral commission but cannot be made public till after 22nd of May. Lee’s legacy will live on through Team Lee United Forces and all the good I hope to achieve xxxx”

By this time though the damage had been largely done as the phrase “Remember Lee Rigby” had already been used by Britain First as part of their entry on the Election ballot paper and the party was associated with what would be seen as positive enforcement of British values and memory of a soldier murdered.  No-one remembers the Electoral Commission’s apology, no-one remembers the investigation carried out by the Speaker of the Houses Of Parliament who presides over the Commission, nor whether such an investigation even took place.  They don’t even necessarily remember all the details of the situation but it started the creeping process of ‘normalising’ Britain First so they could claim to be ‘patriots’ which is a common name extreme nationalists use for themselves.

I have heard all too often the defence of “I would never have shared it if I had known who it was really from...” or “I know ‘person x’ and they would never have knowingly passed on something from ‘nasty group y.’” It is worth looking closer at the Britain First posts where very often there remains an undercurrent of racism and bigotry, the troops abroad, the animal rights abuses often being linked to the practice of halal butchery the Lee Rigby campaign and it’s demonising certain parts of the population.

There is the inevitable more blatant fascist post such as the one claiming asylum seekers and illegal immigrants were being given £29,000 in benefits and cutting snippets from the Daily Mail (always a sure sign of bigotry).  Many people will express shock and outrage, especially when it is put in the context of a paragraph stating that a pensioner gets around £6000 a year (a figure which lamentably is near enough correct).  If one stops to question at all then you can pick this argument apart quite easily.  Illegal immigrants get no benefit at all, they are illegal!  The Conservative government benefit cap is £26,000, this is the very maximum amount of money any household can have and that is subject to some fairly draconian methods of assessment so I am yet to come across anyone getting anywhere near that amount.  I have come across a fair few getting £4ooo ps though.  Anyway you get the picture.  Certainly some of the people sharing such posts are bigoted racists, but Britain First has 300,000 likes on its Facebook page are these all racist bigots or are many misguided and duped?

In the past it was just sometimes a question of memes, chain messages, spam that you may be inadvertently passing on, now it is more insidious and perhaps only viral marketing at best.  The other argument commonly used, indeed sometimes with the best intentions and even on occasions with results is the “I didn’t want to take the chance...” gambit.  This in its common form applies to something of abhorrence to people that has some degree of urgency in action required and people think it is better to ensure it is widespread in order to avoid the chance being lost and action (not) occurring.  However if taken to its lowest point it can be that which leads to the point of forwarding those chain emails that say bad luck will befall you if you do not or that some multinational company will pay you in the form of goods/services or hard cash if you tell all your friends about the scheme by sending this email to everyone in your address book.

Caveat Poster, if something seems far-fetched it probably is, if something is asking you to sign up to something think whether or not you would do so in the street.  If someone is asking you to share an opinion they have ask yourself if you’d let them stand up in court on your behalf, check the provenance of sources and one easy way to validate things is to run it through the hoaxkill type sites first, very often you will find that the tortured dog or 82 year old lady or homeless child is either something that never happened, or did so 10 years ago.

The trouble is that the advertisers already have you, because where do you draw the line, do you risk what you see as something bad happening by not reposting, retweeting, sharing, liking, tagging even if you haven’t had the chance to check its validity?  Or do you think that it shouldn’t do any great harm really and if it’s advertisers then they’re all bastards and something should be done about them, scum of the Earth etc. etc…?  Granted whilst it may not be as malign as the supposed inheritance you have from a fictitious relative in Africa but you are passing on something as if you had sneezed and then shaken hands with someone without even wiping.  Think of that next time you open a toilet door as well!

All that Twitter’s Is Not Necessarily Gold!

Song Of The Day ~ The Winners – Freedom