The right to lie! What would Springsteen say?

It’s bizarre how politicians promote alternative realities, expecting us to buy in. I was listening to a podcast by Ezra Klein addressing reality distortion, which he says is a given in the old Soviet Union but is (surprise, surprise!) now quite the norm in two of the biggest anti-communist countries, the UK and the US.

Klein  takes the view that spin doctors and politicians do not control information by throttling it, but by shaping it. (1989 is the anniversary of the victory of freedom of information over censorship, he reminds us – speaking of the collapse of communism and the Wall.)

Just like Klein, another ‘philosopher’ by the name of Bruce Springsteen (!) made a similar observation, back in 1984. I made me want to revisit that interview of  Springsteen by Rolling Stone magazine.  To the question about the Boss’ response to president Ronald Reagan invoking his name when visiting New Jersey, Springsteen had this to say:

“I think what’s happening now is people want to forget. There was Vietnam, there was Watergate, there was Iran – we were beaten, we were hustled, and then we were humiliated. And I think people got a need to feel good about the country they live in. But what’s happening, I think, is that that need – which is a good thing – is gettin’ manipulated and exploited. And you see the Reagan reelection ads on TV – you know: “It’s morning in America.” And you say, well, it’s not morning in Pittsburgh. It’s not morning above 125th Street in New York. It’s midnight, and, like, there’s a bad moon risin’. And that’s why when Reagan mentioned my name in New Jersey, I felt it was another manipulation, and I had to disassociate myself from the president’s kind words.

In hindsight, the beautifully crafted campaign ad, It’s morning in America seems like the kind of place we want to go back to. Except it was a distorted mirror. I wonder what the boss would say about the present batch of ads and sound bytes.

Cyber-warfare – a new definition is overdue

Used to be that cyber war was considered actions of an adversary to take down a system using the Internet. Like crippling a financial system, hacking into and holding hostage a web site, compromising power and communication grids etc. That definition  is really old now!

As authorities uncover Russian interference – specifically the work of trolls, fake social media accounts, and even advertising piped through Facebook, Twitter and Google – we should understand that cyber warfare is more subtle, and has outgrown the old definitions. It is about disrupting the behaviors, and messing with the minds of citizens. Before we show our irritation with foreign culprits, we should be unhappy with how we citizens are easily manipulated by what is online.

The glue that holds us together appears to be easily dissolved by what passes for ‘information.’ As the Philadelphia Inquirer story reveals, we are experiencing high-tech cracks and wedges to undermine us. They worked because of a critical mass of people who unthinkingly re-tweet and share posts and sponsored content. Content that few care check where the source of the post is.

Consider this sponsored ad (featured in the Philadelphia Inquirer story). It looks so silly, and poorly crafted that you’d think any person with some common sense would not even read it, let alone pass it along to others. Variations of these include chain-letters, and memes that no one knows the origin, but often accompanies a statement like “Could I hear an amen?”

For the record I never respond with an amen, for two reasons. The word is a statement of approval or concurrence reserved for prayer. It’s not the linguistic equivalent to the Like button. Also, someone’s rant does always not require public approval to make it more valid. You can still be a friend whether or not you agree with someone’s pet peeve. And for heaven’s sake (pun intended), don’t Like or re-tweet this post unless you a read it in its entirety.

Cyber war is no longer just about attacking hardware or infrastructure. It’s about unhinging us through the things that pass through the pipes that connect our hardware. It’s not about a denial of service, but about a denial of common sense.

What do we tell our children (about dirty politics)?

Did you feel like you needed to take a shower after watching  the recent debates? Or do you feel like you don’t want to mention the word ‘election’ at the dinner table for fear of dredging up unsavory topics?

‘Adults behaving badly’ might sum up what we have been witnessing these past few months.

I’ve tried to explain to young people who ask, that:

  • This is not how most grown-ups behave – you know, hurling around ugly epithets; using vulgarities, slurs…
  • Political campaigns are unfortunate war games people play, hence ‘battleground’ states, attack strategies.
  • In the 4-year gaps between the these ugly wars, try to not do as they do.
  • The phrase ‘anyone can become president’ is something we are no longer proud of.
  • Though Gallup holds that 75% of Americans identify with a Christian religion (Pew Research says 70.6%) there is nothing very Christian about this process

Aren’t you waiting for this spectacle to be over?

Trademark ‘Violators’ in a Connected Era

If someone were to come up with an Encyclopedia of Lessons Learned it would surely run into volumes. I would love to help edit it!

Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson bring up one more case of how companies get it wrong when trying to protect their brand by trying to silence a fan and calling it “infringement.”  (Check out For Immediate Release podcast. Show # 705)

The case involved Nutella, and a fan who started something called World Nutella Day, created by one Sara Rosso. It reminded me of a case involving the line “Eat More Kale,” that was completely different, in terms of not using a brand, but “infringing” on its tagline. (I understand that advertisersconsider taglines as “intellectual property” even when they are really  sharable markers, not some protected species.)

I interviewed Bo Mueller Moore for a section in my book that talks about “speaking out of turn” and why we do it. The reason these cases resonate with me is because I was the recipient of one of these silly, corporate Cease-and-Desist letters myself, way back in 2000. I know first hand, what it means when a fan-boy (or fan girl, in Rosso’s case) is asked to shut up, or face a battery of lawyers.

You could find more about this, in Chat Republic.

But to get back to the podcast, it features an excellent discussion on why, especially (but not exclusively) in an age of social media, companies should strongly think through what they are really trying to lock down: The brand identity, or the conversations arround it? I didn’t know this, but Shel Holtz, who once worked for Mattel, referred to how the company had tried to sue the band Aqua, for a song called “Barbie Girl” –in 1997.

In 2009, Mattel did an about turn. It sanctioned and released a music video with the song.

A sobering thought for anyone considering firing off a cease-and-desist, today.

Meet the panel –for Chat Republic launch

It’s going to be an interesting round of conversations for the launch of Chat Republic in Colombo in a few weeks. The event, on June 18th, will focus on the power of social media across many disciplines.

The ‘knights,’ as Bates Chairman puts it, will include:

Shehara De Silva – GM, Marketing, Janashakthi Insurance

Virginia Sharma – VP of Marketing, Communications and Corporate Citizenship, IBM India/South Asia.

Dinesh Perera -Head of Digital Business / Creative Director, Bates

Nalaka Gunawardena – Citizen Journalist / LIRNEasia

Lakshaman Bandaranayake — Multi-Platform Publisher / Chairman, Vanguard Management

Shamindra Kulamanage – Magazine Editor

Ajitha Kadirgamar — Journalist, Social Media Specialist

Nimal Gunewardena – Moderator / Chairman & CEO at Bates Strategic Alliance

Here’s how the media has reported it, calling this an ‘interrogation’:

The interviewers will each straddle a different facet of the topic raging from social media’s use in marketing, adoption by ad agencies, vital value in PR, impact on mainstream editorial media, its mobilisation by citizen journalists and monitoring and analytics.

Not sure about a round table being interrogation technique. I’m there to learn as much as I could from these eminent folk. More details of the event, here.

Update on my book: “Chat Republic”

It’s official, and I’m now ready to announce the title of my book, which is in its final stages.

It’s called Chat Republic.

Angelo Fernando, Chat RepublicI’ve been covering the intersection of technology and business; technology and culture for more than 18 years. More recently, I’ve focused on digital media and our social media-centric lives, and I wanted to put my ideas into perspective.

Chat Republic is more than a fictional country. It’s about the spaces you inhabit.  Those online and offline communities you move in and out of: conference rooms, Google Circles, IM lists, Facebook, online forums. I think of it as a ‘country’ whose fluid borders take the shape of a giant, invisible speech bubble.

The conversations and opinions pouring in and out of our republic, in real-time, are what make our communities more civil, more vibrant. Our chats are certainly not friction-free! But absent these conversations we would be one dimensional citizens, won’t we?

As of today, I am planning to launch the book in two time zones, in June.

Some specs:

  • 25 Chapters – Divided into 3 sections
  • Case Studies from the U.S. and Asia
  • Interviews with non-profits, tech companies, activists, chief execs, editors, citizen journalists, PR consultants, podcasters, government officials

More information here at ChatRepublic.net