Whenever a business gets too large, it ceases innovating and begins looking for ways to put a boot in the face of anyone who wishes to climb past them up the mountain.
Unfortunately the Associated Press enlisted the help of [tech-illiterate] US District Court Judge Denise Cote and put a boot in the face of content aggregators and successfully sued Meltwater (a San Francisco-based digital clipping service that notifies clients when news references keywords relevant to them).
Here’s just an example of the ripple effect of problems this ruling creates just in Judge Cote’s world:
- The US District Court for the Southern District of New York publishes a “News and Events” section on its website (with an RSS feed). Some of the content in that feed violates this ruling.
- The New York Bar Association (of which, presumably, Judge Cote is a member) also publishes news on a variety of its blogs and other presences which could be in violation of the precedent set by this ruling as they contain “relevant” excerpts of stories by publishers with links.
- Judge Cote’s alma mater, Columbia University, routinely violates the standard set in the ruling.
…and on and on.
Hilariously, one of the sticking points in the lawsuit is that Meltwater caches news content going back to 2007 that is no longer available online and offers it to customers. The AP literally doesn’t offer a competing product and wants to someone else for making the information available when they won’t. It’s the equivalent of a record company suing me for giving a friend a pirated copy of an album that is no longer in print.
It’s the same thing the music industry did over a decade ago when it sued into bankruptcy the file-sharing platforms (and even attempted to sue the manufacturers of MP3 players) that allowed music enthusiasts to trade MP3s – which the industry was not willing to offer despite the overwhelming demand.
This should be instructive for the AP. After its decade-plus crusade – the music industry won itself widespread hatred, lost its oligopoly, and was entirely unsuccessful at stopping file-sharing. Even now they’re still in the trenches trying to hold back innovation by attacking their customers and technology companies (see: “six strikes”) and losing billions of revenue in the process.
The Associated Press already sued “Moreover,” “All Headline News,” and even Google before taking on Meltwater. So far they’ve been satisfied with licensing fees (likely much-needed income as the quality and breadth of their output declines along with the rest of the dinosaurs of traditional media), but what will be next?
For more – I recommend reading the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s response to the ruling:
AP v. Meltwater: Disappointing Ruling for News Search
MARCH 21, 2013 | BY CORYNNE MCSHERRY AND KURT OPSAHL | Electronic Frontier Foundation
Talking Points Memo noted this morning that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s re-election campaign today released a Harlem Shake meme video featuring college students re-enacting the format of a lone dancer dancing until the beat drops in the song and all hell breaks loose. As I’m fairly certain they’ll pull the video as soon as they notice how badly it’s faring in the public space, here’s a cached version:
Ignoring the fact that the voc-over that starts the song is from a reggaeton artist named Héctor Delgado and declares “Con Los Terroristas” which is Columbian/Spanish for “With the Terrorists,” there are a number of problems with the effort.
- Know Your Publics: The video is ostensibly to appeal to a younger audience, and campaign spokesperson told CNN that college students actually contacted the campaign and offered up the idea. I don’t have the data in front of me, but I’m betting McConnell’s base doesn’t have much to do with Harlem, Youtube or college given that the legislator led the effort to cut Pell Grant funding recently and stands at odds with younger voters on a wide range of issues. Moreover, Kentucky lags behind the rest of the country in broadband Internet access penetration (coming in at 45th in the US) which doesn’t bode well for HD streaming video content as a delivery method.
- Social Media Means Participation: As of right now, both comments and ratings are disabled for the video on YouTube. Not only that, but comments are disabled for four of the six videos Team McConnell has uploaded in the last year. When you disable the participatory elements of social platforms – you run the risk of driving people to other spaces where they can participate beyond your ability to join the conversation.
- Timing is Everything: The video was published today, but I remember seeing pitches to corporate clients about jumping on the Harlem Shake bandwagon weeks ago, and the phenomenon peaked on February 10 when as many as 4,000 videos were being uploaded to Youtube per day. The speed at which social media moves means most organizations are completely incapable of responding in time to actually appear in-tune and actually risk appearing clueless and out-of-sync with the times.
On that third point, I leave you with a video the Minnesota Timberwolves shot that encapsulates the sentiment toward the Harlem Shake by an increasingly larger portion of the public (which includes a font-based jab at their rivals the Miami Heat in the close):
Today I noticed in my social stream on Facebook that Budweiser was using ads to fight back against the accusations that they are watering down their beer.
This little advertisement popped up humorously takes a jab at the plaintiffs in a lawsuit by offering the possibility that they mistakenly tested one of the cans of water Anheuser-Busch has produced to meet the emergency needs during one of the recent crises like Hurricane Sandy (a practice that dates back to the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906):
Other than the ads BP blanketed the socialsphere with following the Deep Water Horizon disaster, I don’t think I’ve seen much of this practice by major corporations. I actually think it’s a smart and effective strategy (particularly in the budget department). It simultaneously addresses the lawsuit while reminding the public of its social good campaigns.
The only criticism I have of the ad as a public relations move is that it doesn’t send those who click on it to a page addressing the accusations, rather it goes to Budweiser’s main fan page (which likely won’t help address the crisis among people who aren’t familiar with it). There’s print on the ad that likely explains this, but it’s far too small to read in the tiny dimensions of a Facebook ad.
As I write this, Burger King’s Twitter Account (@burgerking) has been hacked by Anonymous and turned into a McDonald’s account with the parody storyline that BK has been acquired by McDonald’s. It’s still posting updates (including photos of drug use and links to rap videos on YouTube) unabated.
What’s particularly amazing about this situation is that it’s now almost an hour into the hack and no one has taken action (neither Twitter, nor Burger King), though that may attest to the resourcefulness of LulzSec – the security wing of the unofficial hacker collaborative Anonymous.
After careful observation the six-second videos uploaded to Twitter Vine (courtesy of VinePeek.com which aggregates a live, unmoderated feed of everything into one stream) for several hours straight, my content analysis is as follows:
[Disclosure: I applied for the University of Michigan Social Media Director position.]
In October of 2011, the University of Michigan announced that it had created a Social Media Director position. I was elated; it was a great sign that the practice was gaining the recognition it deserves. In February of 2012 they announced that after “dozens” of applicants (a suspiciously low number for that high-profile of a position with an elite school that paid $100k/year) they had selected Jordan Miller to be their new Social Media Director.
Flash-forward to December 7 when a post appeared on Reddit titled “UM Social Media Director Jordan Miller lies on resume about bachelors degree, keeps job.” posted by citizenthrowawayx. The post contained links to three scans of documents that pretty conclusively demonstrated that Miller had indeed lied on her job application claiming to have completed her studies at Columbia College in Chicago when in fact she had not.
There’s a lot more to the story (that the anonymous individual who did the legwork and posted the damning information is an ex-husband who happens to also work at U of M and who is involved in a custody battle, alleging that Miller manufactured child abuse allegations against him to negate his custody of their child) but I’m less interested in that than the larger ramifications of this case study in how not to approach social media.
Beat the Dead Horse: Radical Transparency
What I can’t get over is that someone would think they could get away with something like this in applying for (1) a social media leadership position at (2) one of the best universities in the US. Who thinks this sort of deception can last in such a position of scrutiny?
Forget unethical (although it’s certainly that), in the age of radical transparency duplicity is just plain impractical.
Here is just a sampling of the ripples Miller’s lying has sent off in the direction of everyone she’s had contact with:
U of M Human Resources: Why doesn’t the University of Michigan’s Human Resources Office vet the higher education credentials of its applicants? How many of the rest of the university’s employees are lacking in degrees from accredited higher education institutions? Why didn’t the HR department take action on this information when it was forwarded to them “a few weeks ago?” Why did it take contacting the university’s Compliance Hotline to get something accomplished?
Past Employers: Now that we know Miller lied on her U of M job application, does that mean that she lied on her application to the Ann Arbor News? As a journalistic organization that trumpeted her hire and is now reporting on her downfall – it’s incumbent upon them to now shine that same light on themselves and their hiring practices. How many of their other reporters are lacking in degrees from accredited colleges/universities? Why don’t they verify higher ed credentials? Ditto to Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, the advertising agency that employed her for a year and a half.
References: This kind of situation makes me less inclined to want to give out references or endorsements, which are becoming ever-present on social networking sites. You practically trip over them logging in to Linkedin, they’re on Facebook and its apps (like Branchout) and everywhere else.
Past Work: If Miller lied about something as substantial as her higher ed credentials, what else is lurking in her past? Has she fabricated any of the information in the stories she wrote for the AnnArbor.com?
Social Media Pros: Specializing in social media is already a profession that hurts for credibility. Here’s a comment from the story announcing Miller’s hire typical of the opinions of many people on social media:
“Wow. $100K per year to Twitter (aka “gossip”) and create seminars teaching other people how to Twitter (aka “gossip”). It’s too bad the UM doesn’t have any marketing students or anyone like that, who could devise and maintain “social media” strategies as part of their degree programs. What’s another $100K in taxpayer dollars anyway? It’s just disgusting. A hundred THOUSAND dollars a year. It’s incredible.” – YpsiVeteran
This act can’t help but contribute to the sentiment that social media pros are charlatans and hucksters. As a result, all of us suffer.
The Other Applicants for the Position: There were some other applicants for the position who were probably better-qualified than Miller (whose social media credentials I found to be surprisingly sparse – leading me to long suspect that there was some sort of backroom arrangement for the hiring process which is depressingly common at higher ed institutions). Forget me, Lindsay Blackwell comes to mind – even I was impressed by the multimedia site she set up to apply for the position. I worry that U of M will eliminate this position and kill a great opportunity for someone else (and an opportunity to show how far ahead of the business world the academic world is in terms of social media acumen).
The Silver Lining
Radical Transparency is here to stay. It is the norm. It is one of the rules of the ecosystem.
As we work to get past the social norms that are in conflict with this new reality, we can facilitate this by making use of all of the amazing computing power arrayed before us. There is value in verification – think of what Linkedin could do to further attract employers as a job posting website by offering the verification of credentials.
I’m not optimistic about the odds of it happening, but hopefully the human resources world takes this opportunity to reflect on how outmoded its conventions for vetting job applicants are. There are so many ways to measure the abilities of people online, and so few HR departments are flexing all of those resources.
Regardless, it’s going to be interesting to see how this all plays out (and it is literally playing out right now on Reddit as Miller’s ex-husband is able to respond to the questions and comments of other Redditors).
There has been some pretty impressive tech on display during the 2012 election, but one of my favorites has been Google’s Election results:
Their live, interactive display that allows the same sort of smooth and intuitive navigation as Google Maps is truly stunning.
In addition to mapping county by county data, they’ve also tied in a variety of analytics and news sources from their various other platforms from Youtube to Insights to Trends.
Not only are they doing real-time mapping of the reported results, but they’re tracking where the AP has called the race for one candidate or another (I’d love to see them wrap in more news outlets and who they’re calling the races for – unfortunately they have an exclusive arrangement with the Associated Press).
More of this, please.
It’s not a revelation to observe that public relations people often have an adversarial relationship with the legal department of any large organization. By nature, the two fields are set in opposition: public relations pushing to disclose, and legal pushing to conceal.
Too often, unfortunately, the legal department wins out when disputes arise as the legal profession tends to be respected as far more credible than PR. That doesn’t mean legal is right all (or even most) of the time.
Recently a local paper featured a live chat with an employment law professional and a staffer of a state legislator who proposed barring employers from accessing employee social networking profile data. As is the case with most ham-fisted attempts by lawyers/legislators to insert themselves into the social media landscape, both the law (House Bill 5523: Social Network Account Privacy Act) and the legal advice for employers are wrong.
While part of House Bill 5523 is reasonable (protecting userid/password information from employers) – it’s superfluous political posturing because the act of an employer demanding access to an employee’s Facebook account is already illegal: it’s identity theft (and it’s also prohibited by Facebook’s policies).
What I disagreed with most was the legal advice for employers, which was essentially to avoid using the Internet and social media to search for information on prospective employees. The rationale given for this was the possibility that one could uncover information about a prospect (such as a pending pregnancy, age or disability) that one would have to prove they didn’t use this information in a decision not to hire.
There are two problems with that advice:
1) Not hiring someone due to pregnancy, age, or a medical condition happens regardless of the use of social media to find that information out. When you interview someone in person, those things become readily-apparent whether or not you used social media to weed people out.
Abstaining from social media searches wouldn’t insulate anyone from allegations of bias.
2) There’s actually a very good case to be made that investigating employees via social media actually PROTECTS employers from allegations of discriminatory hiring. For starters, it allows an employer to get a sense of someone’s fluency with technology (essential in the workplace today).
Depending how active people are online, it can also provide insight into their critical thinking process, how active they are in the community, and what their communication skills are … all things that are perfectly reasonable to use in not hiring someone.
If you need an excuse not to interview or hire someone, odds are the Internet can provide ample legal justification.
Sometimes considering an alternate perspective to the legal one provides valuable insight. I wish more corporate leadership would try it.
I was fortunate to work with a great team of people who helped Family Promise of Grand Rapids win Toyota’s “100 Cars for Good” competition this year (a full case study is available here). Yesterday, the organization took receipt of the car which was another great public relations opportunity from the competition (which has given the organization a great platform to reach more members of the community).
West Michigan charity takes delivery of Toyota truck it won through Facebook contest
By Jim Harger | Grand Rapids Press | on October 26, 2012 at 11:49 AM
GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Family Promise of Grand Rapids took delivery of its new Toyota Tundra pickup this week thanks to its success in Toyota’s 100 Cars for Good competition earlier this year. (More)
"...and you shall have no pie."As my parents tell it, when I was an infant my first word wasn't a word - it was an entire sentence. Very little has changed.
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