The best commentary on the Spitzer mess
Like so many, I've been following the Elliott Spitzer mess since the news broke Monday. I've restricted most of my commentary to Twitter as I don't really have anything new to add. Others have already done a terrific job commenting and analyzing the disaster. Among others, check out Huffington Post for great columns by Nora Ephron and Chris Kelly.
But this morning, I read what has to be my favorite commentary on the whole debacle, including the inordinate amount of attention the news media paid to this story. Sure Monday was a slow news day but by Wednesday there were other events in the world.
It's short so I'll give you the whole thing. From Famous Mark Verheidens of Filmland:
The Helicopter Shot...
I'm watching MSNBC as I write this, and they're twenty minutes into live helicopter coverage of NY Governor Eliot Spitzer's SUV driving across Manhattan so he can theoretically resign. Forget all the other issues involved... my question is, do these news folks really think there's a chance Spitzer's gonna run? (posted March 12th)
Internet pets on strike in support of the WGA
So I am in the middle of writing a fairly serious post about customer service, and then I found this video by the writers of the Colbert Report on YouTube.
Pencils Down: How fans can support the WGA
I twittered about the Pencils 2 Media Moguls campaign earlier this week, but today United Hollywood posted an amusing video promoting the campaign.
More on the Writers Strike
The writers are doing a great job communicating their story on the Internet. I wish them luck, and will be doing what I can as a fan to support them. If you want a good summary of the issues, watch these two videos.
And check out these sites:
- United Hollywood (sign the petition)
- Writers Guild of America West
- Writers Guild of America East
- Pencils down means pencils down
The issue is resonating particularly loudly in the fandoms I follow, chiefly the Whedonverse and Battlestar Galactica. Joss Whedon has posted on Whedonesque multiple times and Ron Moore of BSG just started his own, personal blog (versus the scifi.com one he sporadically posted to last year.) And of course writers Jane Espenson and Mark Verheiden, whose blogs I read on a regular basis anyway, have been covering the strike in their usual articulate fashion.
What does Facebook want to be when it grows up?
Facebook. It's hot. It's become one of the most popular social networking sites mere months after opening up to the masses. It's cozying up to, and getting tons of cash from the big boys.
But what does it want to be when it grows up?
Some of its recent actions suggest that it's a little confused.
If it wants to stay the adult equivalent of the college facebook, then I guess it makes sense to have a terms of service that requires that people use real first and last names on their accounts, a security measure that has its roots in Facebook's beginnings. And to boot off people using pseudonyms. But then it won't really be an inclusive social networking site, will it? Lots of "people" who would join, and bring their rich social interactions, will find someplace else to (net)work and play.
If it wants to enforce its own definition of obscenity on the entire community, in direct contradiction to US law, by banning photos of a legal act, breastfeeding, while allowing things like pro-anorexia groups, the company certainly has the right. It's not smart to alienate current and future customers, but it is their playground,so they can set the rules. They have every right to define obscenity as something that would make a 16 year old boy uncomfortable... in a bad way. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
Don't get me wrong, I like Facebook. It has tremendous potential as a social networking platform. But even as its valuation rises, it seems to be making short-sighted business decisions that will ultimately affect its future growth.
Personally I like the fact that I know my friends on Facebook are real, live people. I'm not likely to befriend an avatar. And I'm not a big fan of anonymous blogging. However, I do engage in other networks like Twitter with folks using pseudonyms. Sometimes I know their name "in real life" and sometimes I don't. And I don't care. Wouldn't the smarter decision be to allow pseudonyms, but require that it be acknowledged in the profile? Transparency. You have the right to know that Jon Swift is a pseudonym before you friend him, but it is ridiculous to require his real name. His online friends don't require it. Why should Facebook?
And the obscenity thing. The legal definition of obscenity is complex (and by the way, doesn't even apply to breastfeeding in public which is legal in all 50 US States.) In the US, we rely on the Miller test. Facebook on the other hand appears to be applying the frat boy test. Or something. Truly, they have to straighten this out. Either Facebook supports free speech or it doesn't. And "doesn't" is a really bad business decision which doesn't have to be made explicitly. Inconsistent application of community standards accomplishes the same thing.
It's time for Facebook to grow up. Think about the long term implications of its actions. Understand that the seemingly trivial issues of breastfeeding moms and anonymous avatars are fundamental business decisions that ultimately will affect its ability to become the preferred public social networking platform.
UPDATE 11/2: In this corner Microsoft and Facebook. And in this corner Google and everyone else. Ding Ding. Yesterday the Internet was abuzz with the Google OpenSocial announcement, and today the kids at Facebook are looking at a whole new world. They still have the users and a very powerful Big Brother in Redmond. But they can't afford to keep making stupid mistakes. Because it seems we have a viable alternative.
One more for the road and one for the Roadmap
I promise, I do have some actual marketing content in this post, but before I get back to the Roadmap, I've got one more comment "for the road" about the absurdity that is our national presidential elections.
You may recall my comments in earlier posts about how the media always seems to pay inordinate attention to the appearance and demeanor of female candidates -- hair, make-up, nature of their laugh. You know, the really important stuff that tells voters whether a candidate is qualified for elected office. You know, more important than the issues facing our country like the war, health care and the economy.
Well, I must extend kudos to USA Today and reporter Maria Puente for an interesting story on the front of the LIFE section this morning about how style is "an issue for '08". The story presented a pretty balanced view of the media's obsession with the candidates' (and especially Hillary's) looks.
But the best was the sidebar on page 2 of the section that dissected what all the presidential candidates are wearing. Absolutely priceless. Absolutely perfect. Here are just some of the gems:
[...] Earlier this year, Edwards was captured on camera fussing over his hair. Then there were jeers when it came out that he spent $400, twice, on haircuts. But Edwards laughed off the criticism, spoofing the kerfuffle with his own video (featuring Hair from the Broadway musical).
The former New York mayor gets applause for finally giving up on the comb-over and accepting the realities of male-pattern balding. Now if only he could spiff up those oversized, un-stylish suits he sometimes wears.[...]
[...] Then it was reported on Radar Online.com that he was miffed at his staff for dressing him like a metrosexual in a "gay" V-neck sweater over a T-shirt. McCain's campaign did not return calls seeking comment, then or now.
[...] Romney criticized Edwards on the haircuts, but then it came out that he had spent $300 on a makeup job before a debate. [...]
Go read it.
Now back to the roadmap. You remember, the Marketing Roadmap :-)
The media landscape is shifting. Right in front of our very eyes. Customers are increasingly taking control of their own brand experiences. Generating the content, deciding what is important. Targeting by behavior is more effective than demographics. It's not just about viral, it's about spreading the right message for the right result.
Now, if you've been active in social media marketing for the past few years, none of the above is news to you. At all. You already know that the traditional lines between PR and marketing are blurring. We aren't talking in isolation to influencers (the media) and customers. Intermediation is no longer the name of the game. We can, and must, talk directly with our customer, who is simultaneously both influencer and buyer. Forget about messages. We have to connect with people. Honestly. Authentically. No bullshit.
If you've been doing this for a while, you understand how important this new communication is to our brands, our companies, our survival. You've sucked that social media kool-aid right down. You get it.
But it can be hard for people to put their heads and arms around when faced with it for the first time. And there's no real way to cut the learning curve down. You just have to jump in.
Now, I am always suspicious of business experts who don't actually do what they write about, so I viewed Larry Weber's new book, Marketing to the Social Web: How Digital Customer Communities Build Your Business, with a bit of a jaundiced eye. Sure, he has the PR background but I'm not sure he even has a blog... How much could he really know about marketing to the social web without doing it? Without being in it?
Well, I can't answer that question, but I just read an excerpt from his new book in BrandWeek, and while I'm not sure I'd get much new information from the book, I was pleased with the 12 steps he outlined for companies to follow toward an interactive future.
Which makes me think his book might be a good intro for brand marketers and PR execs. Budget is tight right now, so I don't plan to buy the book, but I'd love to hear from my readers if it is any good. And of course, Larry Weber, John Wiley & Sons, if you send me a review copy, I will read it.
Books are pretty much the only things I do review here.
Al Gore's Nobel and Hillary Clinton's Laugh
Just one more side trip, friends.
First, to express my delight that Al Gore was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. No hanging chads in Norway I guess.
And to share with you what has got to be the most absurd moment in the media's coverage of the presidential campaign to date. As you may remember from my Sexual Politics post last week, I am continually dismayed by the amount of attention paid to female candidates' looks. Well, CBS has taken it one step further and actually had the nerve? stupidity? to comment on Hillary Clinton's laugh. And actually not her laugh, but more specifically, the absence of her "cackle" during a recent MSNBC interview.
On Talking Points Memo, Steve Benen writes:
I was particularly fond of the way CBS tried to distance itself from its own report. The senator's laugh, the report said, is "overly analyzed." Apparently, it's so excessive that CBS finds it necessary to note its absence.
In related news, Rudy Giuliani delivered a speech yesterday in which he didn't answer his cell phone; Mitt Romney answered questions without abandoning a position he held five minutes prior; John McCain hosted a town-hall forum in which he did not refer to anyone as a "little jerk"; and Fred Thompson went the whole day without responding to a reporter's question with, "I don't know anything about that."
And just think, the election is still more than a year away. How much weirder is it going to get?
BlogHer Recap Part 2: Everything and the Kitchen Sink
There was a lot more to BlogHer than a bit of a fuss about public relations, including seeing so many old, and meeting so many new, friends. Since I am bound to leave someone out if I do a list, know that I was so happy to see or meet you, and was sorry I missed so many people that I know or read. Next year....
This post is going to cover a variety of things, from the unconference on Sunday to politics and why the major media didn't come to BlogHer.
In fact. let's start there. Joanne Bamberger of Pundit Mom and Jennifer Pozner at the Women's Media Center have done an excellent job of summarizing the issue: the national media didn't bother with BlogHer, with 800+ women bloggers in attendance, even though a major policy effort, BlogHers Act, was a key element of the program and Elizabeth Edwards was featured in the closing keynote. Yet a week later. everyone finds time to go to Chicago for YearlyKos.
As I posted in a comment yesterday to my previous BlogHer post, I wonder if it was in part because of the absence of assholes?
Bear with me a moment.
It's a well known fact. Disagreement and invective make better stories than agreement and community. At least as far as the mainstream media is concerned. Don't believe me? Just pick up your local morning paper and look at the front page. Besides, there really is no other explanation for Ann Coulter.
Why doesn't the mainstream media understand that 800+ women bloggers are a powerful political presence? Especially in the context of BlogHers Act, a collective effort to make a difference on a significant issue, global health?
I'm wondering if it is because the BlogHer community generally embraces its diversity instead of encouraging controversy? The media loves arguments and assholes and division, and you know, there is plenty of all three over on most political sites. But 800 women coming together out of a mutual interest in using blogs to share their experiences, whether professional, personal or political, and agreeing to respect the diversity of the community, not proselytize?
Nah. That's no fun.
It's also not right. Think about how you can change it.
Moving on, let's be crystal clear. Just because the BlogHer community isn't a bunch of jerks doesn't mean that there aren't political differences among the members. Julie Marsh, mothergoosemouse, touched upon them on both her personal blog and on Imperfect Parent. As she notes, the women in the BlogHer community are good at coming together on the areas upon which we agree. But there seems to be a liberal bent, which may be off-putting to more conservative women. How do we embrace both groups? It's not a trivial question.
Especially in context of the thing that worries me the most about US politics, which is that we seem to have become so polarized (call it red/blue if you must) that we cannot come together on anything. I posted the following on BlogHer a few weeks ago and Lisa Stone referenced my question during the Edwards keynote:
Independence Day musings
In a country where Ann Coulter can continue to spew the sort of garbage that compelled Elizabeth Edwards to call Hardball...
It is perhaps a good day to remind ourselves of our foundations:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
And to think long and hard about what kind of country we want. 2008 is not that far away.
Update: And reminding us of our Constitution (School House Rock and all) Brian Clark over at Copyblogger
When the wisdom of crowds is replaced by the rule of the mob
Step into my minefield. Because, yes, I am going to comment on the Kathy Sierra/meankids blogstorm, and I already know that many of my friends will not agree with me. But I will soldier on.
I'm appalled that Kathy Sierra got death threats, as I would be about anyone who got death threats. I think the posts about Maryam Scoble and Ms. Sierra were vile and wholeheartedly agree with the critcisms of them. They cross the line. Legitimate, satirical criticism of the ideas of a public figure is one thing. Personal, vicious attacks are another. Especially under a cloak of anonymity.
I feel for Ms. Sierra, and anyone else who has been the victim of similar abuse and threats, and in no way want to dismiss their feelings or encourage on- or off-line misogyny. However, the public linkage of the anonymous death threats to the meankids site contributors disturbs me. It is trying these people in the court of public opinion, where, let's be frank, the standards of evidence are not so strict.
"Tell me sir, when did you stop beating your wife?"
Now, I don't know any of the antagonists in this tale particularly well other than through their public writing. I've exchanged a few emails over the past couple of years with Chris Locke, mostly about our mutual obsession with the television show Battlestar Galactica. I worked with Jeneane Sessum once on a teleconference organized by mutual friend Toby Bloomberg. That's it. I don't know Frank Paynter, Alan Herrell or Kathy Sierra personally at all. Until this disaster, I would say that they were all highly respected in the blogosphere. Now?
The wisdom of crowds has been replaced by the rule of the mob, which has tried and convicted Locke and friends, without really bothering all that much about the other side of the story. That this other side includes the fact that they were part of the meankids, and some were part of the successor uncle bob (or whatever it was called), doesn't seem to be in much dispute. As such, perhaps they share responsibility, whether they wrote the posts or not, for the unpleasant posts about Ms. Scoble and Ms. Sierra.
But it is a gigantic leap to then link them, by name, to the anonymous death threats. To be fair, Ms. Sierra's post did not accuse them, but the inference is definitely there. And that's pretty much what the blog mob went with. Everything got muddled together, and the rush to judgment was intense.
One could be guilty simply by association. For example, BlogHer, mentioned in Ms.Sierra's post, came in for a little mob abuse. Read BlogHer co-founder Lisa Stone's excellent response.
I even got my small share simply because I had linked to meankids once, in its very early days when it had some amusing stuff related to the whole Locke/Tara Hunt blog spat. The site didn't stay at that level of satire, and I soon stopped reading it. Nevertheless, on Monday, someone left a snide comment on my blog implying that I was involved. I corrected that assumption immediately in my comments, but started to think: What does this mean for linking, for the conversation, if you run the risk of being held accountable for the actions of another site? Especially as in this case, when it diverges from what you liked, and linked, initially.
Now, let's turn from the rule of the mob to the offensive posts themselves.
Did meankids get a whole lot meaner? Apparently. Was bad judgment used? Probably. Do dark corners exist on the Web that exploit women, children, minorities? Absolutely. Is hate speech alive on the Internet? No question. I spent 10 years of my career working in the Internet and spam filtering industry and I can assure you, I have seen just about everything you can imagine. And some stuff you can't.
Were the posts about Ms. Scoble and Ms. Sierra vile, beyond the pale, bordering on hate speech? Absolutely. Did they "ask for it," simply by being public persons? Absolutely not, and anyone who makes that argument has missed the point completely. They don't deserve such abuse and neither does anyone else. However, as Michelle Malkin pointed out, it happens all the time. Public persons have to deal with everything from spoof and gossip Web sites to obscene snail and email, stalkers and the occasional death threat. Sometimes, it is intended to be funny and unfortunately crosses that fine line between humour and hate. Sometimes the material is simply hurtful. And sometimes, it is as, or more, unpleasant than the photoshopped images of Ms. Sierra.
When we blog under our own names, bloggers become public figures . When you become a public person, you give up some small measure of your privacy in exchange for recognition, celebrity, fame, etc. For most of us, the exchange is a positive one; we get more than we lose. Most of the time. But we can't pick and choose what parts of recognition we want, and what parts we don't. It just doesn't work that way. It's like the movie star who drives his way to the top, gets the fame and fortune he wanted, and then complains that the fans invade his privacy.
It's not right that we have to deal with trolls and hate speech and all those other things that come with being a public person. But absent a complete and total cultural shift, we have to deal with it. It is part of the price. We only can choose HOW we deal with it.
I agree with Michelle Malkin, and as a die-hard liberal, you know how hard that was for me to write. From her blog post referenced above:
"My response to this and other endless slurs and threats--most empty, some serious--has been two-fold:
1) Report the serious threats to law enforcement.
2) Keep blogging."
You can also choose to not be a public person. By blogging anonymously or in a gated community. Or by not blogging at all. But if you want the goodness that comes with being a well-read, well-respected blogger and expert in your field, you've got to be prepared for the badness. And as we've seen, it can get pretty bad.
And there is a corollary to this: you can't just get upset about bad behavior when it affects your "friends." You have to be just as willing to stand up and say it is wrong when it is your "enemy" being attacked as when it is your friend.
Now, today is "stop cyber bullying day," and I think that's a terrific idea. But the problem is, we have to do things for more than one day. If you are appalled at violence against women, don't just write a post and make some noise this week. Do something tangible next week, and the week after that, and the week after that. Instead of selling your old clothes on eBay, donate them to a local woman's shelter. Volunteer. Cancel your subscription to Maxxim. Whatever.
Cyber bullying bad? Sure it is. Stop it. And don't limit your definition of cyber bullying to just those behaviors that you don't like, done by the people you don't like. Cyber bullying doesn't have to be obscene or profane. It can simply be throwing your weight, and your words, around with an intent to dominate the discussion.
So, please look in the mirror, too.