Posts tagged ‘Twitter’


Why in 2017, joining Facebook is a bad thing

02.12.2017


Reddit, uploaded by GameAlex2005

Holly Jahangiri shared this link with me on Twitter yesterday: Facebook is asking people to upload photos of themselves to prove they’re human.
   Good luck with that, because most of the bot accounts do have profile photographs, so this won’t solve a thing.
   Of the many bots and fakes that Holly and I have reported recently, Facebook took down one of hers. They took down none of mine. Basically: Facebook isn’t too bothered by bots, or is too stupid to recognize them even when people alert them.
   Even though Facebook says, ‘Please upload a photo of yourself which clearly shows your face. It can be an older photo, and it doesn’t have to just be you on your own—so long as you’re in it. When you send us a photo, we’ll check it and then permanently delete it from our servers,’ don’t they claim that they don’t ever delete anything?
   As Design Taxi points out, this isn’t the first time Facebook has asked for our photographs as a means of identification: last month, they reported that Facebook wanted people to send nudes of themselves: ‘The system it is trying would prevent specific photos [e.g. revenge porn] ever being uploaded to Facebook, Instagram or Messenger—but you do have to privately share them with Facebook first.’
   My response below, (Links added to the following) sums up Facebook as it stands in 2017, not including these developments. I honestly can’t see why anyone would join now. If you are joining, there’s a pretty good chance you are a running bots anyway, there to join other bots, or you work for a click farm.

That is sick. Forced downloads through a malware scanner that doesn’t show up in your installed programs’ list, collection of preferences even after users have opted out, kicking out people using aliases for self-protection, allowing access to fan pages even though one is not an admin, allowing bots to overrun the system and (currently) ignoring 100 per cent of reports, lying about the number of users it can reach in any demographic and then claiming their numbers have no relation to the real-world population, and essentially covering up the fact its databases are regularly faulty (the photo method is probably part of this), I can see just how appealing Facebook is in 2017!

   As mentioned, if not for certain businesses, I’d be gone from the site—and I’m not even that bothered by all the photos I’d lose. I haven’t uploaded many for two years, and all the rest I have archived away. I have twice as many connections on Twitter; on Linkedin, around two-thirds what I have on Facebook; and about a third on Instagram. I have a small group of friends on Blogcozy. It’s not as though I’ll suddenly find myself away from social networking.

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Posted in business, internet, technology, USA | 2 Comments »


Google News won’t rank you top, even when you broke the story and have the best article

01.12.2017

Techcrunch broke the news about Bahtiyar Duysak, the German who worked for Twitter who, on analysing one of US president Donald Trump’s Tweets, considered that he had broken the website’s T&Cs, and shut it down.
   This blog post isn’t going to go in depth into the rights or wrongs of this. What it does illustrate, however, is how Google News serves up the news.
   Remember I said that Google cozies up to corporate media these days? That even as recently as five years ago, if you broke the news, you got the hits, because Google News would rank you ahead of those others who followed you and possibly took your article?
   I could only give my own example (at Lucire). But here’s another, where Techcrunch not only originated the story, its version is far superior to all those that followed. I think most of us would agree that the first and best should be ranked first. But look at the media names that appear. (One screen shot is from when I was logged in; the other when logged out. In neither case does Google rank Techcrunch at the top.)


   I’m going to repeat something I said last month: there’s a gap in the market for a website that spiders news and serves the search results in meritorious fashion. It should also have a human team that can decide, initially, which media outlets should be considered, and potentially an AI that can learn how to pick the best.
   That used to be Google News, but for years, it hasn’t been. And there are very negative consequences for the fourth estate and the societies served, including harming the incentive to create in-depth journalism.
   Who will take up the challenge of creating a proper news spidering service using real sources, and treating us all the same regardless of one’s bank balance and influence?

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Are you close to quitting social media?

14.11.2017


Above: Just another regular day on Facebook: find more bots, report them, Facebook does nothing.

A friend asked today, for an article he is penning, whether we were close to quitting social media on his Facebook (I realize the irony). Here was my reply (links and styling added). What are your thoughts? Are the big social media sites coming to an end? We’ve definitely passed peak Facebook. Peak Twitter has been and gone, too, given that the platform now entertains 280 characters and has effectively said people who abuse its terms and conditions can stay if they’re newsworthy.

[Name omitted], here’s my take on it.
   I’m cutting back on Facebook for a number of reasons. The first is that this site doesn’t work. There are too many bugs, too many times when I cannot like, post or comment. Facebook has bragged about forcing people to download malware scanners (I can provide links) that have nothing to do with malware being on the user’s systems. I wrote this up on by blog and tens of thousands have read it. While that’s not millions of users, that’s still a lot. And I think the reality is that millions are affected.
   Besides, Facebook has lied about its user numbers. As a business I can’t really support it. I have businesses I am involved in here where I don’t have a 100 per cent ownership, so those still spend. But when Facebook claims more people in certain demographics—millions more than in government censuses—then that is a worry.
   That leads me on to another point: bots. This place is full of them. I used to see more bots in my group queues than humans. I report them. In probably 40 per cent of cases, Facebook does nothing about them. So even for my businesses I wonder if there is any point posting here if I am getting a bot audience. My group numbers are shrinking in some cases, so I’m not alone in wanting out of this platform.
   And what more is there to share? I used to share photos but, frankly, I no longer can be arsed. I have Instagram for that, and that’s sufficient for me. My life is interesting but those who need to know already know. I will have seen them IRL. Just like the old days. There aren’t many things I want to update people on because my views on them haven’t changed hugely. Facebook is my Digg anyway, and has been for years. And if they carry out their promise to move news articles off the main feed (as they have done in some countries), then there’s no point sharing those either. You know statistically personal sharing is down 25 and 29 per cent year on year for the last few years, so we are not alone.
   Twitter I have read your concerns about, but to me it’s the better platform for having a chat, but there I am incensed that there is a double standard. Politicians can stay and abuse people because Twitter says they’re newsworthy. Everything is newsworthy to someone. They should not be the arbiters of that. While I haven’t seen the level of outrage (must be the people I follow) that you wrote about a few weeks ago—if anything I find it better now than in 2013–14—it has become less interesting as a place to be. All platforms, as I might have said earlier, deterioriate: remember how good email was before spammers? Or YouTube without brain-dead comments? Or, for that matter, any online newspaper? They attract a class of non-thinkers after a while, immovable when it comes to rational dialogue. We cannot level the blame solely at social media, it is society. You quit this, then there is no reason not to quit Stuff, for example: poor writing, no editing, and the comments, oh the comments! Or life in general: you and I wouldn’t walk into a redneck bar and talk diversity to the locals. Therefore we wouldn’t frequent certain places on the ’net. It isn’t just social media we would avoid overall: there are millions of sites that we just wouldn’t venture to, and we have to ask where we would draw the line. And maybe, then, these platforms do have a place—but we watch our privacy settings, and we don’t look at the main feed.
   I have been advancing the idea of going back to long-form blogging anyway. You control who comments. You determine who you converse with. And if they made it through your post, then that took more intelligence than getting through a Stuff article, so at least you’re cutting out a certain type of person. Maybe the past is the future. We’re not hiding with those blogs, but we are setting the bar where we want it—and that might just deal with the problems you’ve observed in social media.
   There are sites like Blogcozy, a blogging platform inspired by the old Vox (before Six Apart shut it down). I’m on there a lot, I have a nice following of a few dozen trusted people, and it blends the best of both worlds: long-form writing with social networking, posts shared only with those I choose in my settings.
   In the 14 years I’ve blogged—a lot less than you—I’ve had decent comments, so maybe it is time to fire up our own platforms more and get eyeballs on our own work.

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Trading identities in the 2010s: when corporate branding and personal branding adopt each other’s methods

14.10.2017


Above: Brand Kate Moss was probably seen by more people when the model collaborated with Topshop.

In 1999, the late Wally Olins sent me his book, Trading Identities: Why Countries and Companies are Taking on Each Other’s Roles, a fine read published by the Foreign Policy Centre that argued that countries were trying to look more corporate, adopting the practices of corporate branding. Conversely, as corporations gained more power and their need to practise social responsibility increased, they were adopting the ideas from nation branding. There was an increasing amount of this swapping taking place, and the 21st century has seen the trend continue: more countries have finely tuned nation brands and guidelines on how to use them, while many corporations are trying to look like good corporate citizens—Dilmah and Patagonia come to mind with their work in building communities and advocacy.
   We’ve been discussing at our firm another area where a similar switch has been taking place: that of corporate brands and personal brands. Personal branding is a relatively new development, with (in my opinion) Managing Brand Me the best work on the subject, authored by the late Thomas Gad with his wife Annette Rosencreutz, dating from 2002. (Thomas, of course, founded Medinge Group.) Managing Brand Me features an excellent break-down of the four dimensions involved (functional, social, mental, spiritual) in any good personal brand that still hold true today. They were well ahead of their time given that they had written their book long before selfies became the norm, and before people were being hired by companies as ambassadors based on their Instagram or Twitter followings.
   Those spokespeople are practising their brands almost haphazardly, where some are getting to the point that they cannot be sustained. Others are balancing authenticity with commercial demands: we know that Kendall Jenner probably doesn’t drink Pepsi, and no one wants to be seen to sell out their values. Nevertheless, there is a group of people mindful about their personal brand, and it’s only a matter of time before more begin taking on the trappings of corporate brands: inter alia, guidelines on how theirs is to be used; what products can be endorsed by that brand; how it can be differentiated against others’. Kate Moss may well be one example with a recognizable logotype that appears on products that have her seal of approval. (If I can be slightly macabre, the estates of Elvis Presley, Steve McQueen and Audrey Hepburn all think carefully on how each celebrity can be used to endorse products today; while lacking symbols or logotypes, their faces themselves are more than a substitute. With technology democratizing, it is no surprise that living and less iconic people might adopt similar ideas.)
   What of companies? Many now find themselves on an equal footing, or even a disadvantage, to personal accounts. The biggest companies have to fight for attention on social networks just like some of the top personal accounts in the world, and they cannot succeed without speaking to the audience in a personal fashion. A corporate account that reposts publicity photographs would gain little traction except from fans who are already sold on the brand through non-social media; and there is some wisdom in assuming that millennials do not possess the same level of brand loyalty as earlier generations. They’re on the hunt for the best product or service for the price and adopt a more meritorious approach, and among the things that will draw them in will be the values and societal roles of the company. Therefore, there has to be a “personality” behind the account, aware of each of Thomas and Annette’s Brand Me dimensions.
   It has not escaped me that both Lucire’s fashion editor Sopheak Seng and I do better than the magazine when it comes to social media interaction—getting likes and comments—because we’re prepared to put our personalities on the line. The automated way Lucire shares articles on Twitter, for instance, hasn’t helped build its brand there, something which we’re remedying by having team members around the world post to Instagram for starters, giving people a glimpse of our individual experiences. The images might not all look polished as a result, but it is a step toward fulfilling the four dimensions. It is a quest to find a personal voice.
   In the wider media game, this is now more vital as news has become commodified, a trend that was first expressed in the 1990s, too. Perhaps those authors saw that most media outlets would be getting their news from a more concentrated base of sources, and demand on journalists to be first and fastest—something not helped by a society where speed is valued over accuracy—meant that whomever controlled the sources could determine what the world talked about. Global companies want everyone to see when they’re involved in an event that a good chunk of the planet is likely to see; in L’Oréal Paris’s case it’s the Festival de Cannes. If every fashion publication has its eyes on Cannes, then what differentiates that coverage? What stamp does the media outlet’s brand place on that coverage? Is there a voice, a commentary, something that relates to the outlet’s role in society? Should it communicate with its best supporters on social networks?
   Lucire does reasonably well each year at Cannes with its coverage, probably because it does communicate with fans on social networks and alerts them to exclusive content. The rest of the time, it doesn’t do as well because as a smaller publication, it’s relying on those same sources. In 1998 we would have been the only English-language online publication specializing in fashion that talked about each H&M launch; in 2017 many fashion publications are doing it and our share of the pie is that much smaller. Individuals themselves are sharing on their social networks, too. This is not a bad thing: others should have the means to express themselves and indulge their passion of writing and communicating. Exclusivity means traffic, which is why we do better when we cover something few others do.
   However, I recently blogged that Google News has shifted to favouring larger media players, disincentivizing the independents from breaking news. It comes back to needing a distinctive voice, a personal brand, and while we still need to rely on Google News to a degree, that voice could help build up new surfing habits. The most successful bloggers of the last decade, such as Elin Kling, have done this.
   These are the thoughts milling around as Lucire heads into its 20th anniversary this month, and we reevaluate just what made us special when the publication launched in 1997. Those values need to be adapted and brought into 2017 and beyond. But there are wider lessons, too, on just where corporate branding and personal branding are heading; this post did not set out to discuss fashion media. It’s not a bad place to start our inquiry, since fashion (and automobiles) are where a lot of brand competition takes place.
   Indeed, it signals to me that in the late 2010s, companies need to do well as corporate citizens and have a personal voice on social media, ideas that build on my 2013 paper for the début issue of Journal of Digital and Social Media Marketing (where I discussed brands in the age of social media and put forward a model of how to manage them) as well as Thomas and Annette’s earlier research. It’s the next stage of where branding practice could go—JY&A Consulting is primed, and we’re prepared to let those thoughts loose on Lucire and our other projects. The book of the blog, meanwhile, is the next target. What a pity I’m not in Frankfurt right now.

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No surprises as Facebook slips to third in Alexa, but tech press misses it

17.04.2016


Above: Facebook’s latest move: ensuring that notifications for messages go to its own app. If you choose not to install it, tough. (Actually, you can reach your messages if you had bookmarked your old message index, and through some digging you can still get there. However, your old habit of clicking on the number won’t work any more.)

I notice that Facebook has dropped to third in Alexa this week, but none of the tech press has covered it.
   I know the usual arguments: Alexa isn’t the best way of measuring audience stats; everyone (including us) has dropped because of the way Firefox has changed its status bar, thereby omitting a lot of users from its sample; Facebook itself will have recorded no real drop in user numbers (though we also know a lot of these so-called active users are bots and spammers, as we see heaps each day); and that Alexa doesn’t capture mobile data, where people are spending far more time these days.
   It does seem rather hypocritical, however, given that the same tech press applauded and wrote heaps of articles when Facebook overtook Google in Alexa. Some hailed it as the rise and rise of Facebook. There were tones of how unassailable it had become.
   However, its number-one position was remarkably fleeting and it quickly dropped back to second, where it has been for years, apart from that one blip.
   Facebook’s position has been usurped by Google’s YouTube. I make no predictions on whether this is fleeting or not, but it doesn’t look good for Facebook. I just don’t see any YouTube hate out there. If you dislike reading the comments from the world’s keyboard warriors sitting in their underwear at home, a few cookie settings will render them invisible. YouTube becomes a remarkably tolerable site.
   Earlier this month, a report found by my friend William Shepherd showed that personal sharing on Facebook had dipped by 21 per cent.
   I have said for years that ‘Facebook is the new Digg,’ a place where news is shared, not personal updates, though it appears it has taken a while for the company to realize this. Looking at some of the bugs on the site over the years, I’m not surprised Facebook missed it: for months it acted as though its entire user base was in California, with the website stuck at the end of each month till it got to the 1st in its home state. Now it is kicking users off over fake malware accusations when it’s more likely, and this is my guess based on how the site has behaved over the years, that its databases are dying. Liking, sharing and commenting fail from time to time.
   Given this, and its many other problems—including the breach of policies outlined by some of the groups it participates in, impacting on user privacy—no wonder it’s experiencing this drop.
   I see personal updates again that I saw a day before, because relatively few of my 2,300 friends write them any more. The trend has shifted, and a lot of users must have noticed what I did many years ago.
   At Medinge Group we have long advocated transparency in brands, and Facebook’s actions run counter to a lot of what we have proposed.
   We believe that sooner or later, people wise up—something we said about Enron at one of the first meetings I attended in 2002.
   In fact, the way Facebook behaves tends to be combative, and for a 21st-century firm, its attitudes toward its user base is very 20th-century, a “them and us” model. It’s not alone in this: I’ve levelled similar accusations against Google and I stand by them. Since my own battle with them over malware, and a more recent one over intellectual property (where I was talking to a Facebook employee who eventually gave up when things got into the “too hard” basket), I’ve found dozens of other users via Twitter who have been kicked off the service, yet are running clean, malware-free machines. The blog post I wrote on the subject has been the most-read of the pieces I have authored in 2016, and certainly the most commented, as others face the same issue.
   While both giants will claim that they could not possibly have the sort of one-to-one relationship with their user bases in the same way as a small business can, it’s clear to me that big issues aren’t being flagged and dealt with at Facebook. When I read the link Bill sent me, my first reaction was, ‘Why did it take so long for someone there to realize this?’
   Let’s not even get started on the way both companies treat paying their fair share of tax.
   It’s not about the number of people experiencing any given issue, it’s about the severity of the issue that a small number of people experience. By the time a larger vocal minority experiences it, the damage has gone a lot further.
   Facebook does listen to some of these cases: I remember when it limited bot reports to 40–50 a day, at a time when it was not uncommon to find hundreds a day on the site. I complained, and after a few months, Facebook did indeed remove this limit.
   But I regard that as an exception.
   Its forced downloads of so-called malware scans that even its supplier refuses to answer for (could they have nefarious purposes?), and now the latest last week—ensuring that all message notifications in a mobile browser link to its Messenger app, resulting in a 404 for anyone who does not have it installed—are rendering the website less and less useful. In my case, I just use it less. We’re not going to download privacy-invading apps on our phone—we’re busy enough. We want to manage our time and if that means we only get to Facebook messages when we are at our desks, then so be it. Some might abandon it altogether.
   Its other move is ceasing the forwarding from www.facebook.com to m.facebook.com on mobile devices, so if you had the former bookmarked, you’re not going to see anything any more. Some browsers (like Dolphin) came with the former bookmarked. Result: a few more legit users, who might not know the difference, gone.
   If there’s no trust, then regardless of the money you have, you’re not a top brand, nor one that people really wish to associate with.
   Facebook, of course, knows some of this, which is why it has bought so many other firms where there’s still personal sharing, such as Instagram and Whatsapp.
   It knows if there’s another site that comes along that gets public support, as it did when it first started, people will abandon Facebook en masse.
   Curiously, even this past week alone, it seems intent to hurry them along. There must be some sort of corporate goal to see if it can reach fourth, just like Flight of the Conchords.

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Why Stephen Fry left Twitter, and what could be next

16.02.2016

Stephen Fry wrote a witty blog post (he is the Stephen Fry, after all) on why he left Twitter. I won’t quote the whole thing, as it’s his copyright, but I will excerpt a chunk here:

… let us grieve at what twitter has become. A stalking ground for the sanctimoniously self-righteous who love to second-guess, to leap to conclusions and be offended—worse, to be offended on behalf of others they do not even know. It’s as nasty and unwholesome a characteristic as can be imagined. It doesn’t matter whether they think they’re defending women, men, transgender people, Muslims, humanists … the ghastliness is absolutely the same.

   I agree with him about how damned annoying it is to deal with ‘the sanctimoniously self-righteous who love to second-guess, to leap to conclusions and be offended—worse, to be offended on behalf of others they do not even know’. Political trolls are good at this, too, except they only pretend at being self-righteous in order to fuel their sociopathy. This is the behaviour that makes social media tiresome. I still don’t see this being the end of Twitter, even if some are predicting it, for the reasons outlined in this earlier post. However, the tendencies are there with Facebook, too, and what makes that site worse are the very regular outages and the tracking it does of all its users. I can deal with the self-righteousness to some degree, if the damned site worked as a reasonable person would expect.
   What does this mean? Consider the renaissance of the blogosphere. Those who have things to say might enjoy articulating them in long form. We don’t seem to need that instant gratification any more as we’ve become either desensitized to it, or we find it through many of the other sites and apps out there that act as our personal echo chamber. Linkedin’s blogging function seems to get used more and more, and many professionals, at least, have decent followings there. As lives get busier—remember, social media grew easily because people were either looking for new ways to market because of the recession, or they were simply less busy—we may find it easier to manage our time each day without Facebook. So why not something like Linkedin, if not your own blog? I’ve said for years that Facebook is basically the 2010s version of Digg or Delicious. Look at your news feed and tell me that that’s not the way it’s heading—to me, this has been evident for years. And I don’t really need Digg or Delicious now in 2016.
   When you know that, then you realize that it’s not that hard to get your time back. Twitter for short-form “social” communications, blogs for long-form—and there mightn’t be that much room for something in between.

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Google and Facebook should not head “top brands” lists when consumers do not trust them

10.02.2016

I’ve always been surprised when I see Google or Facebook appear on any “top brands” lists. It’s branding 101 that a strong brand must have loyalty, awareness, positive associations, perceived quality, as well as proprietary assets, based on the model from David Aaker, and implicit in this, I always thought, was trust. You can neither be loyal to something you don’t trust, nor can you have positive brand associations toward it, nor perceive an untrustworthy thing to possess quality. According to a survey from a consultancy, Prophet, which looked at over 400 brands across 27 industries, polling nearly 10,000 customers, we don’t trust either Google or Facebook. Neither makes it into the top 50; those that make it into the top 10 are Apple, Samsung, Microsoft, Netflix, Nike, Chick-fil-A, Amazon, Spotify, Lego, and Sephora. Google slots in at 55th, and Facebook at 98th.
   To me, the Prophet approach makes far more sense, as for years—long before Edward Snowden revealed the extent of us surveillance under PRISM—I had been blogging about privacy gaffes and other serious issues behind both companies.
   People may find Google and Facebook to have utility and enjoyment, yet we willingly volunteer plenty of private information to these sites. We do not trust what they do with this information. Adweek notes that in a separate survey, Facebook was the least trusted brand when it came to personal information, making it worse than the US federal government. There have been so many occasions where users have found certain privacy settings on Facebook altered without their own intervention; and I’ve constantly maintained that, with the bots and spammers I encounter daily on the social network, its claims of user numbers are difficult to accept. In fact, if you have Facebook’s advertising preferences set to reject tracking, the site will not stop doing so, compiling a massive and sometimes inaccurate picture of who you are. What it does with that, given that you have told the site that it should not use that information, is anyone’s guess. It makes you wonder why that data collection continues. At least Google (now) stops tracking advertising pref­erences when you ask it to.
   These surveys indicate that consumers are wising up, and it opens both Google and Face­book up to challenge.
   Google dethroned the biggest website and search engine in the world when it was released, so no one’s position is guaranteed. Duck Duck Go, a search engine far better at privacy, has chipped away at Google’s share; and I find so much Facebook fatigue out there that it could follow Myspace into irrelevance. When I hear those speak of these two companies’ positions as being unassailable, I take it with a grain of salt.
   We already have seen peak Facebook (and Twitter, for that matter), for when it came to Super Bowl stats this year, there was a massive 25 per cent drop in activity. Interestingly, despite the trending #RIPTwitter hashtag last week, I don’t agree with those who think Twitter is heading into oblivion, for the simple fact that the site is less invasive and seemingly more honest than Google and Facebook. Those same experts, after all, said that Google Plus would be the Facebook-killer, while I consistently disagreed from day one.
   The Medinge Group predicted correctly in the early 2000s when it was stated that consumers would desire greater integrity and transparency from all their brands, something reflected in our book, Beyond Branding. I don’t believe that we are so different when it comes to dealing with online brands.
   This is, then, a welcome challenge for all businesses, to ensure that they demonstrate transparency to their audiences. We have remained very constant in our treatment of private information: for the most part, unless you’ve agreed to it, we don’t store it at our company. There is some information that goes to our advertising networks through cookies. We admit we could have a clearer privacy policy. But for us, we don’t want to lose your trust, because in bad times, it’s the one thing we can hang on to. It’s not something Google or Facebook seem to be aware of as they tend to ignore users’ demands and queries.
   In the last 24 hours, author Holly Jahangiri found an illustration depicting child pornography on Facebook that had been reported by many of her friends—only for Facebook to deem it constantly acceptable, despite what it states in its own terms and conditions. It was only when she Tweeted about it that Facebook finally responded publicly; and only when she involved a US government agency did the page disappear. The pressure of accountability like that against dishonest companies tells me Twitter will be around for a while yet.

   The trend this year, I believe, is the ongoing rise of challengers to these two brands. When the tipping-point against them occurs, I do not yet know. But now, I sense that it’s closer than ever.

This blog post is an adaptation of the editorial in issue 35 of Lucire.

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How a car accident makes you grateful

04.05.2015

The trouble with all the yellow-peril reporting that’s far more prevalent than it should be in Aotearoa is when something happens to you that may get people thinking about a stereotype.
   Back in March, of course, we had one writer justifying racism toward (east) Asian tourist drivers in the Fairfax Press, when the facts show that Aussies are the worst of the tourists when it comes to causing accidents on our roads. That’s no surprise, since there are simply more Aussie tourists driving on our roads; yet, as I pointed out in March, no one really seemed to mind how many accidents tourists were causing when the bulk of them were Aussies, Brits and continental Europeans.
   Then we had another one a few weeks later from the same newspaper group that suggested the increase in corrupt practices among New Zealand companies was due to immigration from countries such as China, tying in the story to a Deloitte report to give it legitimacy—except the report makes no such claim.
   With the exception of journalists like Dave Moore of The Press (part of the same newspaper group) who prefers to cite motoring facts and back them up rather than rely on hearsay from their grandfathers, it seems pretty easy for some in the media to draw a stereotype of the corrupt, incompetent Chinese driver. Those who think that we have completely moved past drawing pigtails (I said pigtails, not ponytails) on Chinese caricatures are wrong; while there aren’t such negative portrayals in our media, it seems incredibly easy, almost a default position, for some less responsible types to fall back on unrealistic conclusions. After all, The Dominion Post said my accent is hard to understand on its p. 1 some years back, and as many of you pointed out to them via the social networks, no one in the real world knows that they are talking about. (Note: I received a Twitter apology from the editor-in-chief.)
   The trouble comes when the fantasyland concocted by some starts impacting on everyday life, which is, of course, some of the discussions that US residents are having right now over how black Americans are portrayed. The peaceful protesters don’t get covered, because they are less newsworthy; the violent looters do, and it becomes dreadfully easy for the less cosmopolitan to equate being black with being violent.
   After a car accident on Friday, where everyone was exemplary, I couldn’t help but have these thoughts go through my mind. I found myself telling friends, ‘I had an accident, but the other driver was at fault,’ even though my friends know of my love of cars, and my above-average abilities with them. I double-checked with the police officer that he clearly understood me, when I should never have doubted his objectivity. My radar was alert for anyone who might fall back on the stereotype, even though I live in a city, with an urban population that generally has more contact with minority cultures and know that the fantasyland concocted by certain people is designed only to appeal to the ever-shrinking market of xenophobes in society.
   The ages of most of the people involved were under 30, so I really had nothing to fear: the other driver, the police officer, the witnesses, and the schoolboy who, as a responsible young New Zealander, called the emergency services for us. One witness offered her lounge for us to rest and get over the shock. The officer was scrupulously professional, not letting on any emotion (the Dieter Bonrath poker face school of policing, for the Cobra 11 fans out there) as he gathered his facts; he became friendlier after it was established we were both decent folks willing to help, and there was no booze involved. The ambulance staff were ultra-friendly and we had to assure them that we were all right and they should head off to the next gig where there may be a greater need for them. The other driver was honest, considerate and took responsibility, although she was in shock (as was I for some time, though I probably hid it better), yet her first utterance was to ask if I was all right. That says volumes about her character. Not only was this an urban population, this was a young urban population for whom skin colour is far down the list of priorities. Ditto with me: I can’t tell you what races people were. I just remembered everyone sounded like me. You know, like Sir Anand Satyanand.
   But it is a worry when your thoughts go toward defending yourself from the stereotype, because years of living in a place where you are the minority have taught you to be alert. Granted, no one shoots at us, since our cops are unarmed for the most part, but I began to get an appreciation for the hands-up gesture among black Americans in their country. It’s a symbol of so much, including ensuring that no one ever mistakes you for being armed, because of the negative associations that are portrayed. You nevertheless worry if anyone around you bought into fantasyland, because you know the less intelligent do: you’ve seen it. (I hasten to add that this is not a criticism of any particular people, because I am well aware that if you go to a place where my race is the majority, there will be a certain segment of the population there that holds negative and false stereotypes of others.)
   Race relations in this country have improved markedly since my arrival in 1976, so this is heartening. I don’t see things like refusal of service to people of my colour (yes, it has happened in the last four decades), and the stories of my great-uncle and others, of having stones and rocks thrown at you by fellow Kiwis because of their colour, seem foreign and distant. Last Friday was a reminder that most New Zealanders look at others fairly, regardless of their origins. That was a silver lining. Lucy Knight’s instincts kicked in to defend a Chinese New Zealander whose handbag was being stolen by a young man, and Mrs Knight got a serious head injury for her intervention, requiring months of surgery and rehabilitation. I doubt she evaluated the race of thief or victim before stepping in, and, rightly, The New Zealand Herald didn’t care, either. Go to your social media feeds, and by and large, racism is frowned upon. Last Friday was a fantastic reminder of the good of the place I have proudly called home most of my life. A place where xenophobia is virtually dead.
   We’ve come a long way, and we just need to weed out the last little bits of this strange fantasy where it’s apparently desirous that Aotearoa looks something like Midsomer but without the deaths. The reality is that the Midsomers of this world (by that I mean any society that adopts a Luddite position in part through having its head in the sand) are terrible at trading and stagnate. We’re in a global society, we’ve a lot to gain from working with others in different nations, and we’re really not that different across the planet. As someone once pointed out to me, the Palestinian Dream looks an awful lot like the American Dream.
   And, if you’re truly proud of your country, you’d naturally want to share, secure enough in your belief about the place to know that the fundamental things about it will never change. New Zealand will always be New Zealand, with an independent, determined outlook, and those who come get it. The more we share, the more we all get it. That’s a good thing.

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Posted in cars, China, culture, media, New Zealand, USA, Wellington | 1 Comment »


In the Empah, the royal baby is 8 lb 3 oz, thank you

03.05.2015

The Cambridges with their new daughter in her first public appearance; photograph from the Press Association.

 
I haven’t followed the news of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s new baby much, but I was interested to note that when Kensington Palace announced her weight, it was in Imperial only. None of this foreign metric rubbish in the Empah, thank you:

   I’m not complaining, since I still have weights and heights in Imperial in my head, being of that “transition generation” that was taught both at school. I still need to do mental arithmetic when the news tells me, ‘The suspect is 183 cm tall.’ I can tell you because of this Tweet, the royal baby and I weighed the same at birth; had they told us this in metric, I couldn’t have made the comparison.
   I am wondering if the choice not to cite the weight in metric was intentional. Judging by my feed, there are plenty of royal-watchers younger than me. Forget pounds and ounces, they might not even know who Gorbachev was. I occasionally refer to the old weights and get puzzled looks, so, outside of the United States, are they still that familiar to people?

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Posted in culture, internet, media, UK | No Comments »


The trials of being a dual national (or, Kiwis are better at this stuff than Brits)

28.02.2015

I have just under a year before my British passport expires. In the great tradition of apartheid, it’s a British overseas national passport for those of us born in the colonies, and both in 1996 and 2006, I had to use a different form to British citizens. I presume Britain was worried about overseas British subjects flooding to their country if anything happened, and as we all know, they would much rather that Johnny Foreigner from the Continent head there to get work.
   Naturally, they don’t make the renewal easy. Once upon a time, you got the form, filled it in, paid the fee, and went along to the British High Commission. It approached New Zealand levels of efficiency, which is very un-British, as it goes against the national tradition of strikes. However, I bumped into the new High Commissioner late last year (strangely, I never saw his predecessor in all the years she was here, so presently I still wonder whether she exists) and he advised me that these were all being done from the UK. It does beg the question of why we need High Commissions, just as I’m sure Gordon Brown was asking once why Britain needed all that gold, and earlier leaders why Britain needed a domestically owned car industry. You just never know what is round the corner.
   But I digress.
   I Tweeted the British High Commission’s account to ask about this, and they pointed me to www.gov.uk/browse/visas-immigration. It’s not terribly useful. Here was how our Twitter conversation unfolded:

   I did try the form for regular British citizens, which is one thing a search gives you. I’ve been through it, and there’s nowhere in which you can tell them you’re a BNO. This might be good news, because it means the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has started treating us the same as everyone else. Except you just know that that’s too good to be true. And the silence from the High Commission is interesting. You can always count on the Foreign Office to make you feel second-class. By telling them you are BNO, it rules out that you have any blue blood from their lot, so they have nothing to fear if you are a pleb.
   This is not atypical of the British High Commission: I had a query in 2001 on a fairly serious matter, and they ignored my correspondence. The Foreign Secretary then ignored it. The Shadow Foreign Secretary then ignored it. Thank goodness for Ms Doreen Welch of the Prime Minister’s office, who acknowledged it, to the point where I took her correspondence to Britain to show that even if the FCO were incapable, the PM accepted my viewpoint. (Who knew? Tony did good.) We return to the question of just why we need High Commissions if they actually serve no function for British subjects abroad. (The only High Commissioner who ever bothered responding was George Fergusson, because of our St Mark’s old boys’ connection, but in classic British fashion his people got the address wrong on the envelope and the correspondence took months to get from Thorndon to Kilbirnie.)
   I enquired again, this time with the Passports’ Office. I have cited the wrong link below, but at least I admit it when I am wrong.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

The British High Commission in New Zealand provided me the link to your new service at https://passportapplication.service.gov.uk, and it looks very easy to follow.
   However, I am a British overseas national. I note your website has a separate PDF form for us, and a separate set of guidance notes. What your website does not detail is the process and where we send this PDF once completed.
   Most websites seem to point to the above link.
   Please can you enlighten me on the actual procedure? If it is the first link given, then I am happy to proceed through it and do it online. However, if the presence of the PDF on your website is any indication, then I suspect we have to jump through different hoops, and I would appreciate your guidance on that.

Yours sincerely,

Jack Yan

   Here is the reply. This is in full. Salutations, you see, are no longer part of FCO correspondence. That makes it officially one step down from responses from Amazon.com.

You will need to apply using the online application service. Please see the advice here: https://www.gov.uk/overseas-passports.

Regards

HM Passport Office Webmaster

   My response:

Thank you for your reply. So you are saying that there is no difference whether I am a British Overseas National or a British Citizen, and that I follow the one procedure at your link?
   This also means I can ignore the downloadable PDF on your website for British Overseas Nationals: is this correct?

   That’s the thing. There are two forms. One is the standard one, and the other is the BNO one, for which there are no instructions. No addresses are given on where to send this form. And when you ask them, no one will tell you a thing. Britain is sworn to silence when dealing with British subjects.
   Now, you might think, why don’t I just follow the link given? Sure, but this is the UK. I am happy to follow it and pay the fee but if they cock up, I pay again. It’s not like New Zealand where you can explain this to someone and they do the logical, right thing. It’s not even like Hong Kong or Singapore, places blessed with a decent civil service when the sun still shone on the Empah, but where the functionaries actually function. This is why I want to be sure. And you would think this was a delightfully simple query, innit.
   No one appears to have blogged about their experiences, hence this post. I even used my last-resort search engine Google to take a look: you know I got desperate when I allowed the NSA to know and to pass that on to the GCHQ.
   If you’re a BNO who has been through this post-2013, please feel free to comment.
   It’s in stark contrast to my urgent New Zealand passport renewal last year, which was done by the DIA in Wellington in four hours. That was not a typo.
   I realize that with electronic media somewhat difficult for this department, I will give them a call during the working week. To make sure that I get an answer, I will adopt an American accent, because we all know the British government listens to those.
   Failing that, one might have to fly there just to get this done.

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Posted in humour, New Zealand, politics, UK, Wellington | No Comments »