2009 Thabo Mbeki nails 2016 Social Media

Love him or hate him (or have no opinion of him because you’re dead as a direct result of his AIDS denialism), you have to admit that this quote from wor Thabs still works rather nicely more than 7 years after he quoth it:

“It seems to me that the unacceptable practice of propagation of deliberate falsehoods to attain various objectives is becoming entrenched in our country.”

Read it. Then read it again, and suddenly, you look at the UK’s EU referendum, the US election, the Orlando (or any other) mass shooting or terrorist incident, LCHF, SA politics, the #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall movements (and by this, I mean both sides of those arguments), and virtually any other divisive subject in the world today, in a slightly different light.

It’s like we’ve lost the ability to argue reasonably and logically. Everything is immediately charged with emotion and ad hominem attacks, clouding (often conveniently) the real issues and rendering any sensible discussion virtually impossible.

But why? I have some thoughts. You lucky people, you…

Firstly, with “advances” in social media, it’s easier than ever to propagate stuff, and deliberate falsehoods propagate especially well. The individuals behind these deliberate falsehoods aren’t (always) stupid. In many instances, they’re well aware that the deliberate falsehood that they want propagating will be propagated. That’s the whole idea.
But why does that happen?

It’s happens because: secondly, people – even supposedly intelligent people – have a “share first, think later” mentality when it comes to something that fits their agenda. We’re lazy, in the most part. We can’t be arsed to check whether that attractively-presented stat on immigration is genuine or not – we’re outraged that so many/so few foreign people are being allowed into our country. Or whatever. And people must know this so that they can understand why we’re outraged and why they too must also be outraged.

And then, thirdly, the fact that these days, it’s seemingly unacceptable not to have an opinion on something. Things need to be polarised. You must feel this way or that. You need to agree or disagree, and if you don’t, then I’ll tell you why you should. For example, have you seen this attractively-presented stat on immigration?
Yeah. I know. Exactly. I was outraged.

These three add up to a slippery slope that I fear we are probably sliding down at an already unstoppable rate.

But it doesn’t even end there. Sometimes it’s not just bald-faced lies. Sometimes the unacceptable practice of propagation of deliberate falsehoods is more subtle and cynical. Omission of facts that don’t quite match with what I want you to believe. Selective reporting of the myriad reasons behind a particular incident, nudging you to consider and concentrate on one aspect far more than another.

The thing is though, if you are having to resort to the propagation of deliberate falsehoods in order to attain your various objectives, then surely you need to look again at whether those various objectives are worth attaining. How strong is your various objective really if you have to deceive people to convince them of its merit?

There is some light at the end of the tunnel. Light like fact-checking website AfricaCheck. But sadly, as the name suggests, they don’t stretch beyond this particular continent. Add to that the fact that the unacceptable practice of propagation of deliberate falsehoods to attain various objectives has already become entrenched in our digital culture and you’ll understand that they really can’t be omnipresent, let alone omnipotent.

So it’s up to us – you and I – to make the difference. To take just a moment to consider whether that thing we just heard is actually likely to be true. To critically evaluate the source, the fact, and the potential agenda before we take it as gospel. You can delve into it as deeply as you like, but if you’re not sure that it’s actually not a deliberate falsehood, maybe consider not propagating it.

It’s really nothing more than common sense.

I don’t expect to change the world with this post. It sometimes just seems that the voices of sanity are being lost, one by one, drowning in the ocean of crap that’s constantly being peddled and recycled by people desperate for us to agree with them, and who will hate us if we don’t.

I thought I’d just shout for help before I go under.

More on celebrity death

OK, first off, before we begin, I didn’t write this.
Well, I mean, I wrote this, but I didn’t write the thing that I’m sharing.
So don’t shoot the messenger.

Also, just because I’m sharing this, it doesn’t necessarily follow that I’m talking about you. There are plenty of thoughtful pieces out there (you know who you are) which perfectly describe the writer’s feelings about <celebrity> dying without resorting to hyperbole and the exhibition of apparent Munchausen syndrome.
So don’t shoot the messenger.

Those disclaimers aside though, I did enjoy this piece by Alex Proud in the Telegraph.
Oh, I enjoyed it so much.

On Thursday, Twitter, Facebook and various other social networks echoed with the wails of Prince fans who had come together to publicly grieve the Purple One.

In much the same fashion as the reaction to the death of Victoria Wood barely 24 hours earlier, the sites were soon overrun with comments such as “Can’t stop crying, feel so empty. RIP.”

Inevitably, we then had the immediate backlash, where people pointed out that if you are, say, a 45-year-old Surrey-based facilities manager with two children, who had never actually met Prince, mild sadness might be a more appropriate response than utter devastation.

Then we had the backlash to the backlash, where the mourners attacked those who questioned their heartfelt grief. And so on, like ever-decreasing ripples bouncing off the sides of a pool into which a dead celebrity has been dropped.

But ok. I’d argue that it’s not for me (or Alex, or anyone else) to tell people how they must react to the death of these public figures. Perhaps it’s the instant nature social media, and its enforced brevity that concentrates emotions and the perception of emotions. Add to that the narcissism and the egocentric nature of the platforms, throw in the faux-bravado of the anonymous commenter and the general lack of respect that individuals display for one another these days and you’ve got a recipe for the perfect storm, precipitated by the latest celebrity death.

People are over-emoting everywhere.

So you’ve got those “over-reacting” to the news, and you’ve got those “over-reacting” to those who were “over-reacting”. Because:

If your opinion (and the opinions of those like you) have come to dominate the media and the public discourse, then, surely, others are allowed to find this overwrought and tiresome.

Were these people always around? Was it just that we never saw or heard them?
Or is an entirely new phenomenon that has been spawned by social media?

Either way, we’re going to be seeing more of it, and that’s not good news:

Now, God only knows where it’s going to end. We’ve got an awful lot of pensionable celebrities these days and they’re all going to die at some point. Also, how far down the food chain we can take this? If I’m devastated when Kinga from Big Brother shuffles off this mortal coil, is my social grief any more or less valid than the utter emptiness you felt when Bowie died?

Alex Proud takes few prisoners and that column is worth a read.

UPDATE: As is this wonderful Michael Legge post, via Jacques. Thank you.

Social Media & Public Customer Service

There’s obviously more to running a business’ social media account than there seems to be. Otherwise we’d all be at it. But it seems that some businesses don’t really get it. I think it’s one of those things that your business either does, or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, then (maybe) you’re missing an opportunity and (almost certainly) you will make some people on Twitter very annoyed:

“OMG! Like, [Brand X] isn’t even on Twitter! Talk about backward! Ugh!”

Those individuals are perhaps forgetting that there’s a whole other world out there that doesn’t rely on social media in the same way that it relies on oxygen, and gets on with life just fine.

But if your business does do social media, then the expectation is that it has to be all in. There is no halfway house here. That’s even worse than not doing social media at all. And you’ve got to do it correctly. History is littered with horrendous social media own goals from just about every company ever, as the hoards of Offendatrons seeking outrage at the slightest misinterpretation or misplaced word in those 140 characters are ready to jump – loudly – all over your case.
Yes, social media is the public face of your company to anyone using Facebook or Twitter, and if you mess up there, you mess up in front of (potentially) hundreds of thousands of individuals, some of whom may once have been future customers.

Oops.

Fortunately, there’s always another social media outrage bus to jump onto, and the public’s memory is short, meaning that these ‘scandals’ don’t last long.

But what if you were to use these facts to your advantage? What if you were to brand all your company’s easily-distinguishable, bright red vehicles with your twitter handle, inviting public engagement, and then used the public face of twitter to appear caring and on the ball when negative comments came your way, but then – once people had swiftly moved on – actually did nothing about addressing the problem?

Step forward then, catchily-named Sport 24 hrs Taxis – they’re @Sport24hrsSA on twitter. And I was “rather disappointed” by the quality of the driving and maintenance on one of their vehicles last week. When I contacted them on twitter, they replied within 5 minutes. Evidently, Sport 24 hrs Taxis are one of those “all-in” companies who “do” social media.

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Impressive response time. And  taking it private sounds like a plan, because actually no-one else really cares about the outcome, which will surely be something along the lines of “Sorry about all that. We’ve told the driver not to use his phone while driving and we’ve fixed the brake light”, right?

There was a hitch though – Twitter rules mean that I couldn’t DM them (send them a direct message), because they didn’t follow me on the popular microblogging service. Silly people.

Still, there are other ways to get in touch with me, as I let them know, (right after I had made the kids some dinner):

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And so they got in touch with me and they said “Sorry about all that. We’ve told the driver not to use his phone while driving and we’ve fixed the brake light”.

Except: no.
No, they didn’t. 

I’m here to tell you that once their public facade had appeared caring, helpful and concerned, I’ve not heard a single word from them on any forum. No contact whatsoever. I’m using this blog to let you know that as far as I’m aware, they’ve done absolutely nothing about the broken brake light on Taxi 26, nor have they addressed the issue of the driver using his phone and weaving all over the road at 80kph past UCT. Because surely if they had done anything about it, they would have dropped me an email or contacted me on twitter to tell me that they had. No?

So, if you publicly comment on a company’s service on twitter and they tell you that they are going to follow up, please hold them to their word and make sure they do.

And, don’t be fooled by a company responding promptly to and promising to follow up on a negative comment or observation on twitter, because the quick public response followed by fokol aksie in private approach is all too easy to use when you want to make it look like you care, but you actually don’t give a toss.

Drink water fam

It has been a thoroughly depressing start to the year in South Africa: the economy and the currency are tanking, the exam results weren’t great (allegedly), the heatwave and drought are biting, farmers are suffering, prices are rising (and seem likely to rise further) and all in all there seems to be a very limited amount to look forward to right now.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the “speak first, think later” nature of social media, Facebook and Twitter have reacted poorly, with arguments over everything – some reasonable, many not – as the under- and over-sensitive members of society continue to find myriad reasons to offend and be offended. And if that wasn’t enough, the whole situation is generating thinkpieces and open letters like there’s no tomorrow.

Won’t somebody please think of the children?
Actually, won’t someone please just. think.

But there are still occasional gems if you’re willing to wade through the BS. The heatwave is hitting our neighbours in Botswana too, and the government there is warning their citizens on twitter:

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I’m not sure that the science is absolutely right (in fact, I’m pretty sure that the science is absolutely wrong), but it does get the message across, which is the important thing.
And, because the sun actually is technically a bit closer to the guys in the picture, if you have such beasts in your back garden, make sure you look after them too.

Outrageous

It’s all the outrage these days to be outraged about things. It’s driven by social media, and fuelled by the websites of the local tabloids and the brain-dead, act-first-don’t-think-later people who populate those places. It seems that people are almost going looking for things to become upset by, a sort of Münchhausen’s Syndrome for the modern generation. And the things that people are getting outraged by are getting smaller, pettier and ever more difficult to predict.

We had this over a misread price label, we had outrage over the outrage over the reaction (or lack of reaction) to the Paris attacks, we’ve had people trying (but not really succeeding) to light outrage fires, and we’re going to have outrage over something else today. Probably.

But I got thinking (foolishly) about the stuff that we haven’t had outrage over yet. Stuff that, given the current climate for instant up-in-arms-ism, you’d have thought would have set the masses off.

  • The carbon footprint of the light aircraft that flies over Cape Town during rush hour, and over Newlands during rugby and cricket matches, towing a big advertising banner behind it.
  • The company that it advertises on the big advertising banner it tows behind it 90% of the time, which is a lap-dancing club.
  • People wasting water. As the so-called “water crisis” bites harder in SA, why has no-one come up with the #watershaming hashtag yet? When we had no electricity, people were quick to point out those being wasteful. With water shortages in 4 (is it 5?) provinces already, why has the same not happened with water?
  • The police vans that push their way through the traffic on the M3 each morning, taking inmates from Pollsmoor prison to court.
  • iTunes. All of it.

And that’s just for starters.

I’m both surprised and irritated that these things haven’t been considered adequate fodder for widespread outrage. Not least because I’d like to see something done about iTunes.