The Modern Day Witch Hunt

Tom Flanagan has endured a flogging in the virtual public square for several days now because of comments questioning the harm of viewing child pornography, captured and posted on YouTube.


I am not a fan of Tom Flanagan, or the conservatives, or child porn for that matter. But I am troubled by the way any semblance of rational thought goes out the window when certain key words are mentioned: child pornography, child molester, pedophile.

And I am troubled by the way the bullies in the audience of the video ask rambling, nearly incoherent questions and the speaker—in this case Flanagan —is supposed to be able to answer every question in a real and engaging way, while every single word can be parsed and posted on YouTube if there is any chance of it embarrassing him or the conservative government, all while being heckled by hostile bullies.

This kind of bullying—and that is what it is—stifles real discussion. It stifles people from even asking some very legitimate questions: should we have mandatory sentences for people who do nothing but view pictures? Who decides which pictures? Where is the balance between deterring harmful behaviour (the production of child porn) and freedom of speech?

Often the people who raise these issues are not very likable folk—think Robin Sharpe—and it is far too easy to jump on the bandwagon of public revulsion. But we do so at great peril to our liberties and often great damage to sometimes thoughtful people. This stifles debate, and discourages good people from engaging in those debates.

There is a constant stream of characters baying to protect us from the great evil, whether that evil be crime, foreigners, other religions, child porn or ourselves. We should debate long and hard before surrendering one iota of our freedoms to protect us from those evils. 


Microsoft Monitors Twitter, Gets My Money

I am someone who has long considered himself an Apple user. I’ve never quite made it to true “fanboy” levels, but my phone is an iPhone, my mp3 player is an iPod and my laptop has long been a Mac.

So, when it came time to invest in a new laptop, it was a forgone conclusion that it would be a MacBook.

Then something unexpected happened.

Mike “Gabe” Krahulik, artist and co-creator of the wildly successful webcomic Penny Arcade tweeted that he had played with a Microsoft Surface Pro in store and thought, with its pressure sensitive pen, it might make a good portable Cintiq for him to draw the comic on the road. Someone at Microsoft saw that tweet and decided to send him one to try (despite his history of being… less than kind to their products).

Gabe went on to write a long post on his website praising the Surface Pro as not only an excellent tablet/laptop, but also a powerful digital art tool (an aspect that has been underrepresented in their marketing). He included videos of himself using the device and even produced that day’s comic with it.

By simply monitoring Twitter, Microsoft gained the opportunity to turn a cultural tastemaker into a champion for their product.

This served to do something that no amount of advertising was able to do: It got me excited enough about the Surface Pro to forsake my Mac and actually go out and buy one.

So, if your business isn’t taking part in the social media conversation, what opportunities might you be missing?


Instagram and the Culture of Free

Every year sees its share of PR debacles. As this one draws to an end, we were lucky enough to get at least one last doozy. No, not the Mayans blowing another doomsday prediction (does anyone know when the next one is supposed to be?). I’m speaking of course, of Instagram.  

In case you’ve missed out, Instagram is an online photo-sharing/social networking service. It lets users take pictures, apply cool filters, then share them with the world. Some took to the service as a way to share their photography and build a name for themselves. Most used it to take pictures of their breakfast. 

(I, of course, used it for REAL art. It’s taken through the blinds. That’s pretty deep and meaningful, right?)

It quickly became the most popular thing in the world. 

This video sums it up

Then, last week Instagram (which is now owned by Facebook) announced its new terms of use agreement that seemed to state their intent to sell user photos to advertisers. 

The internet collectively exploded as people suddenly became very protective of that picture they took of their scrambled eggs last week. 

Instagram has since apologized and reverted back to its original terms of use. 

But here’s the unpopular opinion. They will need to start making money soon. It will either be through advertising or by becoming a paid service. 

I love free things as much as the next guy. I mean, paying for stuff is the worst. Right?

When it comes to the future of a “free” service like Instagram though, I only see three possible outcomes:

1) It dies because it fails to make any money (turns out it costs money to run things)

2) It becomes a pay-to-use service (is it worth $5 per month to you?)

3) When I take a picture of my Starbucks coffee and tag it #ilovestarbucks, Instagram and Starbucks can tell all of my friends how much I just said I love that Starbucks

Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic sums it up much better than I could ever hope to: If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.

— Chris

Tragedy Shapes New and Old Media

Newtown is a horrible tragedy. Nothing can convey the grief and outrage people feel.

The international media frenzy is both repulsive and predictable, supported by us, the general population, and our morbid curiosity.

As a communicator, part of me is fascinated watching the evolution of media practices and social media. Watching the pushback from the population and how they communicate their anger through social media. 

(image via Buzzfeed)

Through all of this, we slowly begin to establish or shift social norms and expectations. What is allowable in reporting on a tragedy? What crosses the line? These questions are being wrestled with now.

Reporting in a crisis is fraught with dangers: the pressure to report quickly, balanced against the danger of errors, or of pushing beyond all reasonable behaviour.

In Newtown, there was the reporter who said a suspect’s name on camera, causing thousands to search and view his Facebook page and his angry denials that he was not the shooter. He was not.

Today there is online disgust with the media frenzy around the children’s’ funerals and aggressive media tactics to get interviews and reactions, all captured, collated and played back through Buzzfeed.

What is somewhat new here is the public’s ability to lash back at the media. Through all of this back and forth, we are establishing the customs and boundaries of media old and new. 

This is small stuff against the scale of this tragedy, but it is how we all play a part in determining how the media, social media and the public will act in times of great personal loss.


Cool Campaigns: Dumb Ways to Die

From Metro Trains Melbourne comes one of the best online campaigns I’ve seen in a while, and one of the most well-planned. 

With a catchy song, great animated YouTube video, a fun and interactive website, and everyone’s favorite, animated gifs, Dumb Ways to Die effectively communicates its message and does so on every platform. 

Kudos to Metro Trains Melbourne – clever, well planned and well executed.