Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Education? It's not a big deal to Peter Thiel

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world - Nelson Mandela

Education is important. Duh. There’s a statement to open with. But it’s true. As Nelson Mandela once said, it’s the ‘weapon which you can use to change the world’.

If it wasn’t for education, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I am very aware that there is a ceiling when it comes to achieving what you want to achieve in life, and it’s not always fair, but I have always tried my best to crash through it. It’s what drives me. Knowledge and tuition has helped me with this when the outside world has been found wanting.

So it does annoy me when a collection of Ivy League-educated venture capitalists claiming that the education system that spawned them is broken.

Broken. Let’s dwell a second on that word whilst we hear a story about Paypal founder Peter Thiel's latest idea. Just to refresh your memory, Thiel is a man so in love with the Randian idea that this world is broken and beyond repair that, rather than ‘fix it’, he wants to build his own island for rich people.

His latest wheeze? He’s set up a scholarship programme that rewards people for not going to college.

The outcome so far? $34 million dollars in money ‘raised’ (borrowed, in other words), no doubt from Thiel’s venture capitalist buddies, and a sprayable caffeine idea that sounds like a bad idea from a late-90s sci-fi show.

Two things frustrate me about Thiel’s approach:

Firstly, he graduated from Stanford, therefore he completed his education. I don’t care what he says, that must have been an influence on his future success. Frankly, if he suggests otherwise, he’s bullshitting us all - himself included. So technically he can claim he succeeded despite the help of a lavish college education at one of the finest institutions in the world. Bully for you, Pete. I'm sure your gold-plated education has nothing to do with your success.

Secondly, he’s waving money in front of teenagers (who are notoriously scrupulous with their money - I am speaking from painful experience here) and asking them to gamble their future on an idea - the problem being that more than a few of them sound incredibly vague, or a product from a home-shopping channel.

Let’s be honest, the relative success rate of entrepreneurs makes for depressing reading. For every Mark Zuckerburg and Peter Theil, there are a hundreds of thousands of people who didn’t quite make it. Tellingly, none of Thiel's kids have made any money yet.

Asking kids to mortgage their own future at this stage in their lives, when they should be hanging around with people their own age and having the freedom to fail when the stakes are much lower, is manipulating their naivety at best, and piggybacking on their ideas at it’s most cynical.

But then again, exploiting teenagers ideas is no big deal when you’re Peter Thiel - if he had his way they’d probably all be working on his island for less than minimum wage.

Good luck, Thiel fellows - you're going to need it. Just don't count on too much assistance from the man himself - he's probably going to be too busy lecturing at his old college for you to get hold of him.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Review: #FakeFans by @C4Dispatches

The latest Channel 4 Dispatches programme, 'Celebs, Brands and Fake Fans' has managed to cause quite a stir in social media circles over here in the UK. It's not a new practice - in fact, I've written about it before.

Like many people working in social media, the most upsetting part of the programme for me was finding out who the businesses and agencies  that are actively taking part in blatant dishonesty and rule bending.

It's frustrating to see them do it, but really, it's not surprising. Often, the first question that less socially-savvy business minds ask you when they come to see you is 'How can I get more fans to like our page', closely followed by 'This global super-brand has XXX million followers, I want my tyre company to have the same amount'. Often, they will ask you if they can just run a Facebook competition - normally one that blatantly breaks Facebook's terms and conditions.

If you say no (which, fact fans, is the RIGHT answer), they'll come back with an answer something along the lines of 'Well, my mate runs a business, and he did it'. You'll then explain that they shouldn't have done that - which is not the answer they'll want to hear. Often (thankfully), they'll just pick up sticks and go and find an agency or a business that will do it for them, and you'll get to wash your hands of their slightly dubious business practice. I've experienced it a few times (times, locations and businesses will, as always, remain anonymous), and I always advise anybody I work with that it's not a good idea. I'm very proud to be associated with some really honest people that work in this industry, and I intend to keep it that way. But sadly, our honesty is why businesses like SM4B and Dynasty Media (UK) exist - they'll make money off of the less ethical stuff, because that's their business model. They're like the dodgy market traders of the social media marketing industry - the bottom-feeding barnacle on the hull of digitally-minded businesses and individuals.

But what are the real revelations?

That celebrities, like most of us, get a bit greedy when presented with lots of free stuff? We knew that already.

That brands pay for fans? Yeah, we know that too. It's shit. But less of them do it than you think.

That the documentary makers have no problem with calling women 'Whores' in Italian? Not cool, Channel 4.

It's all a bit grubby, and I have to say that I really enjoyed the show - and I am very glad that the public have more information on the subject now, as knowledge is power (and all that).  But I felt a bit dirty after watching it. Like the industry that I work in had been soiled in some way.

However, with all that said, the biggest learning that I took away from the whole situation was from this article in The Drum, where I noticed a trend of creative agency heads trying to look edgy by having their picture taken with, or near, a brick wall.

Surely that's got to be worth at least a Tumblr blog? 

Monday, 5 August 2013

Why #TwitterSilence is not the solution

Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration

This past Sunday, in response to the threats received by a number of women, Twitter, that great echo chamber of our age, made an attempt to be silent.

It didn’t work - because silence on these matters is, to put it simply, very divisive. For example - I don't believe in silence on these matters.

And neither does Tracy Clayton of The Root, who wrote an incredible response to the campaign today.

“On the surface, the protest (tagged with #TwitterSilence in discussions) just flat out didn’t make sense, because removing women from public spaces, online and off, is exactly what misogynists want. Speaking up and speaking out against violence against women seems a much more proactive course of action. There was a large outcry among those who argued that urging women to be quiet in the face of suppression is a step backward. As Zora Neale Hurston said, "If you are silent about your pain, they'll kill you and say you enjoyed it."

But that wasn't the only hiccup in this plan. Aside from the protest not making sense, it alienated and excluded marginalized women -- poor women, transgender women, women of color, etc. -- who don't have the luxury of choosing to fall silent because they don't have much of a voice to begin with. That requesting the silence and invisibility of women who are historically and ritualistically ignored, discarded and dismissed was ever a good idea to anyone is a testament to the fact that this protest was not designed with them in mind. It illustrates the ignorance of intersectionality in mainstream feminism, which leaves out women whose experiences don't mirror those of the white folk running the show. It is the great folly of feminism that only certain kinds of women are seen as worth the trouble of fighting for or listening to.”

Anybody who chooses to use a platform such as Twitter has a right to interact in an environment free of abuse. That is an inarguable moral right in my eyes.

But the nastiness on display there, from people across the gender spectrum, is endemic of a much wider problem.

Twitter is not the cause of the problem. We are - the users. It is not a problem with social media. It is a problem with our society - what we deem 'okay', and what we deem 'not okay'. Going silent for a day does nothing to help this.

Online aggression is fed and created by our external experiences - chemical reactions in us from our surroundings. Twitter as a platform doesn’t create the behaviour - it just provides an outlet. Just like a phone. Just like paper. Just like a pen. It was wrong to not have a ‘report abuse’ button on there - but then again so is Tumblr for allowing pro self-harm, pro-anorexia and underage pornography to flourish on their site, purely because (a) it boosted their user-base, making them more valuable and (b) it would be too much effort to implement these safeguards.

But once again, anorexia, self-harm, underage exploitation and abuse are problems that stem from us as a society.

We are not a ‘sick, sad world’ that is on it’s way to Hell in a hand-cart. I just worry that by fiddling around the edges by having a silent protest on Twitter, a platform that has already complied with our wishes, we are letting ourselves off the hook somewhat as a society.

Let’s get some real world solutions involved (not that easy - I know). Let’s educate people offline as well as online in the way that we should talk to one another (challenging). Lets rely less on television shows about the less well-off in society to make ourselves feel better, because as we all know, it’s easier for us to be lazy and kick downwards than to show initiative and push upwards (bloody hell). Let’s talk about these issues face-to-face, and tackle them head-on. It’s hard, but it needs to happen.

Remember when everybody in the UK was scared of Nick Griffin and the BNP? It turns out, that rather than ban, block or try to silence him, if we brought him into our world, and put him in front of an audience, he’d collapse in on himself like a burning straw-man of hollow, bigoted rhetoric. Griffin’s one appearance on Question Time did more damage to the British National Party than years of unofficial censorship. The same is currently happening with Tommy or Steven Robinson or Lennon of the EDL. His appearances on Newsnight, and countless other current affairs programmes, has further solidified the view held by the majority of the 63 million people living in the UK that he is little more than a f*cking berk.

There are bullies to the left, in the centre and to the right of politics. Look at a number of political bloggers out there. You’ll soon see who they are.

They are at work.

They are in schools.

Sometimes, unfortunately for some, they are at home.

What are we as a society going to do about it? Are we going to stay silent on Twitter for a day in a show of hollow slacktivism - or are we going to do something more tangible?

You can report a troll with an abuse button. That’s a positive step. You can report threats to the police. That’s another positive step, and the right thing to do. But whatever you do - don’t be silent. Speak out.

But please remember: whatever you’re doing - make sure that you’re not silent. Because they want you to be silent. They want you to just sit back and take it. Don’t give them the satisfaction.