The Importance of Being Cynical

The Social Mediasphere is a wonderful place, where PR bunnies play nicely with each other and journalists and no-one ever takes delight in exploiting a mistake or generally pissing on your bonfire raining on your parade. Equally  no-one will ever question your motives and everything will be welcomed on face value and never twisted, abused or generally repurposed for someone else’s purposes. This is why I think every company pondering in venturing into the social media world should either employ or consult a professional cynic.

We all know that people online will turn on each other like rage infected monkeys if given half a chance. Almost a year ago many of us  watched through our fingers as Skittles turned it’s home page over to show any hash tagged Skittle tweet.. A great idea in principle, show your website visitors the wonderful things people are saying about you on this new fangled Twitter malarkey. Unfortunately for parent company Mars, it soon featured pornographic Skittle  related tweets and other amusing bon mots, such as my personal favourite:

#skittles got stuck in my mouth while i was driving. forced me to slam into orphanage, killing hundreds. i’ll never eat them again


In hindsight it seems obvious that the idea would be perverted by the crowd for its own amusement or to prove a point. This is something the Labour party found out this week when its Flickr campaign, ‘change we can see’, The purpose of the group was for people to post images of visible changes from the past 12 years. Wisely, it clearly laid out the rules.

We encourage people to participate through uploading pictures and descriptions of Labour Party achievements in their areas.
However, racist, sexist, homophobic or other offensive content or “trolling” is not permitted. Content deemed to fall into these categories may be deleted  and the users posting it may be removed from the group.

However it seems that images of stop and search forms garnered by various photographers as they tried to take images of public buildings was deemed unacceptable, one can only assume under the no trolling rule.  Pictures of forms that had been uploaded were deleted and as was related discussion. The group has now been locked so no more discussions can be started. Unsurprisingly,  a group called ‘Change we’re not allowed to see’, has appeared.

It is possible, if the brains behind this campaign, had thought through the possible ways this could potentially be twisted, the campaign may not have taken off. And this might be true for a lot of social media campaigns, and I’m sure this would be the social media evangelist’s counter-argument to mine. That we should approach online campaigns with innocence and that if we listen to our inner cynic we’d still be communicating via drums and cave paintings. I’d prefer to think of it as being prepared, assume and plan for the worst. It may change the tactics somewhat but it should also prevent fire-fighting and appearing in national newspapers.

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