Posted by Mark Rose
“What happens if some bad, bad, motherf**kers want to do this (social media)? The government? The Rand Corporation? Terrorists?” Loren Feldman says in the 8/8/07 Strumpette TOTAL RANT: Outrage for the Flies. I have to say, first thing in the morning, before the first cup of coffee, Loren’s dark unshaven face and dark pit eyes breaking through the monitor while he rants “You don’t know what the f**k you’re doing, do you?” really jump starts the day. Dis is why New York City is da media capital of the world. Cause dis is how we project. Katie Couric may deliver da evening news, barely, with perfect diction for $10 mil. Loren Feldman will give you the lowdown for free, and he doesn’t even speaka da language.
Nothing like a rant to force perspective and take the concept (social media, in this case) to another level, project the future, break through the bull and get your attention. What da f**ck is he talking about? And what’s with Loren’s sister in the revolution, Amanda Chapel? They’re two placard waving doomsayers about the dark forces of widgets and the social media contagion that is turning us into sheep about to be slaughtered. We’re talking a Facebook “Zombie” widget here, not Al Qaeda sleeper cells in Newark. Why the Armageddon-watch?
It took me several months of hard questioning, private emails with Amanda, serious examination of some of Edelman’s social media offerings, and maybe the Feldman rant to finally ‘get’ the beauty, simplicity and deviousness of social media for mass manipulation. In many ways social media is the prefect public relations platform and the discussion about it is born of pure manipulative PR double-speak. PR professionals, trained to be subservient, non-questioning, and totally obedient to client whims and ignorant bosses, are the perfect implementers of social media.
Social media breeds confusion and fear among clients, and that leads to billing opportunities. There’s business there. Crain’s New York reported recently that Edelman employs 40 bloggers and the practice is growing, along with Edelman’s Me2Revolution, accepted as the vanguard Special Forces in creating the need for and fulfilling the desire for social media under the PR umbrella.
Social media is ill-defined, non-regulated, and incredibly invasive. Its purpose is to engage users, have them enlist new friends in their passions, hobbies and work, and go out and propagate a network with new friends and prove how influential they can be by gathering even more friends – a sort of pyramid scheme of false influence based on mass psychosis. Edelman and others (word of mouth, viral marketers) constantly issue reports about how effective an individual endorsement is for a product or service, and how to turn the individual into an influencer or evangelist. In other words, how many propagandists can you create who will do your bidding and convert others to your cause?
Some PR Double Speak about social media:
Wisdom of the Crowds really means Imbecility of the Masses. Since Edward Bernays we see that people can be tricked to give themselves cancer for tobacco company profits and politicians can be marketed like lipstick, and we can fabricate ‘verifiable’ justification for war. Social media offers the tools to intensify, broaden and speed up the process of spreading rumors as fact. Who was Al Baghdadi? He was a fictitious character the terrorists cooked up to fool the Americans, who made him public enemy number one in Iraq. This hoax was concocted and perpetrated through the Internet.
The blogosphere is self-correcting really means we’ll push the limit until we get caught and then we’ll pull back until we find another way to cheat without getting caught. MWW CEO Michael Kempner is an unrepentant cheerleader for blogola (with the willful participation of swag-hungry bloggers) and Edelman masked its participations in a Wal-Mart blog and gave away Acer Ferrari computers on behalf of Microsoft, until they got caught. Well, the more you do something, the better you get at it. Web sites, blogs, Twitters, widgets, podcasts, video - are easily accessed and available tools for real bad guys to do really bad damage.
We can’t control messages anymore, it’s all about the conversation. This is the line you hear often from Edelman and others. Actually, if you examine their offerings they are usually tightly controlled, highly manipulated, walled off propaganda machines that are meant to game search engine results and overwhelm an argument on behalf of a client. PR will never be altruistic and open to free and easy conversation. Get real.
Last week The New York Times asked its readers online about what social media sites they belong to and what they use them for. Most were on Facebook and MySpace and most used them for fairly innocuous business or personal matters. The simplicity and naiveté of the 128 responses illustrated how easily they, and by proxy millions of others around the world, could be willing hosts for digitally perpetrated ugliness that can do real harm. What will be PR’s role in that doomsday scenario, and what steps do we take to guard against it? To begin to answer those questions we need to first accept the new realities of the business we are in. We are still a long way from that critical, first step.
Mark Rose is editor of PRBlogNews - a web publication focusing on public relations practices in the digital age.
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Love your take on Social Media. In regard to what if some bad MoFo's were to use social media, like "The government? The Rand Corporation? Terrorists," they already are. Check out DIA Embraces Web 2.0 at http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=9011671.
It cracks me up that the first two bad MoFo's you referenced were the government and The Rand Corporation. Ha. Good stuff.
In regard to your point about "Wisdom of the Crowds really means Imbecility of the Masses." I understand your concerns about gaming the system and agree that "PR will never be altruistic and open to free and easy conversation." However, just as the new media opens the door for more abuse, it also opens the door to reach a much broader audience with positive messages that make points backed up by facts.
What the consumer believes is an individual choice based on hundreds of social influences. The genie is out of the bottle my friend and there is no putting her back. We as communication professioanls must learn how to adapt and play the game. To expect issues advocates to play by the rules is like trying to stop 529's from pushing their messages prior to an election or stopping drug traffic from South America. Good in theory, not realistic in practice.
From the beach chair in Sarasota,
Matt Gentile (Floridamoves.com - 300 Days of Sunshine)
Two quick comments:
1. We have to STOP using the phrase "the genie is out of the bottle." Society has put many a genie back. Other countries are working to stifle the Internet as we speak. Remember, it is all based on a circuit, i.e. on and OFF!
2. I also recommend that you read Barry Schwartz: The Paradox of Choice. Also see http://tinyurl.com/22p7oo . There is a huge downside to unlimited variability and autonomy. Web libertarians and anarchists cannot even imagine that reality.
Okay, perhaps 'the genie is out of the bottle' is an overused expression to describe such a huge issue with so much relevance to the industry. However, while I can understand Swartz's contention that an overabundance of choice doesn't necessarily make things better , I'm not entirely sold on the application of this argument toward the rapid expansion social media. How do you stop free speech? It is a fine line you are walking here and while I have grown more educated by listening to Barry Scwartz's presentation on YouTube, it is that very media that made it possible. This very point supports my opinion that while new media opens the door for more abuse, it also opens the door to reach a much broader audience with positive messages that make points backed up by facts.
Just as I had to endure watching a true war veteran get crucified by the Swift Boat campaign in 04', I don't whine about it because Sen. Kerry had every opportunity to hit back harder at those who created the piece through the various media channels available. Opening up more channels to more voices is not the same as having too many salad dressings to choose from at the grocery store.
If you don't like what is on channel 973,000, then turn it. You decide.
But it is similar. It is the marketplace of ideas. And too much choice causes paralysis. Add to that that as there is more choice, quality invariable goes way down. Instead of having a lot of good ideas, we now have a myriad of shit (pardon me).
The fallacy of free speech is that every asshole has something important to say. They don't. The fallacy of Web 2.0 is that everyone is talented. They aren't.
In PR our job, our responsibility, is to influence people to make decisions that benefit our clients. Otherwise why would anybody pay us? I understand and accept the aggressive tactics we use to accomplish communications goals on behalf of our clients (The PR oath?). With Social Media there are some who go beyond that and the potential for evil is enormous. And the naivete among the Social Media zealots is scary.
There's not much I can personally do about drug running and campaign abuse. In PR I can be informed, aware and accountable. Saying "everybody does it" or "it's "human nature" does not absolve your personal actions or the actions of your co-workers. You seem to think that ethics is some quaint little concept that novices and slackers discuss to pass the day. You can be aggressive, effective, and ethical. You don't have to be a total Douche Bag to make it in this business, although, I admit, it seemingly doesn't hurt.
From the deck chair on Puget Sound - 200 days of rain and clouds, an occasional Orca pod.
Yes, the techies who are preaching the social media revolution are just rediscoving old PR technques and rebranding them as something new and exciting and the old PR Pros are going along for the ride and making a lot of money while convincing their clients that these new channels are the answer for pushing whatever product, service or issue to their audience, but is it my job to stand on the soap box and shout down these evil doers and charletins?
Listen, I don't think that ethics are inconsequential, but I'm just trying to put bread on the table myself, pay the bills and take care of the family. I believe I am agressive, ethical and ethical. Thing is, and this goes back to several threads throughout this blog, we do not have a legitmate governing authority like the Bar or the AICPA or even a Department of Professional Regulation to discipline bad actors, so why all the hullabulu?
I live the old saying, "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change things I can adn the wisdom to know the difference. Well, on this one, I feel pretty serene and wise.
From the beach chair in Sarasota,
Matt Gentile (FloridaMoves.com - 300 Days of Sunshine)
I like that old saying. Personally, I am in PR recovery. Instead of meetings I come to Strumpette and confess.
One step at a time Mark. I almost never break-out hullabulu, unless absolutely necessary.