Archive for January, 2017

Fake news, back to the bad old days

Friday, January 27th, 2017

fake“The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals the largest-ever drop in trust across the institutions of government, business, media and NGOs. Trust in media (43 percent) fell precipitously and is at all-time lows in 17 countries”

Fake news sells.

It’s a cliché that most people don’t read past the headline of any story.  One of the consequences of the current business model online where views drives income is that anything that grabs attention for a few seconds is going to make that publisher money.

So you get stories written, and headlines generated, to drive income.  Of course you do.  In many cases the drive for views is overriding the necessity for facts to be remotely involved in the story.

Recently Facebook have announced that they are taking measures to counter the spread of fake news.  New whistle blowing features are being rolled out where you can flag a story you think might be false.  They’ve also announced that they aren’t just leaving it up to readers or to the algorithm.  They are going to work with independent fact checkers.  This is a big change for an organisation that insists that it is a tech company not a media owner.

Fake news that was widely believed includes the story about the Pope endorsing Trump for president.  Or the story about fraudulent ballots being found in a warehouse in Ohio intended to be counted along with real votes for Clinton.

As real life stories, particularly in the realm of politics, have become more bizarre, it has become harder to tell the fake ones apart.

I read recently that many fake news stories can be traced to a small town in Macedonia where teenagers are writing them to generate cash.  Hard to fact check… easy, so easy to believe… impossible to disprove.

Does fake news matter?

Fact checking is a relatively recent thing.  For most of the previous millennium news did not go through editorial independent checks, there was no New Yorker, Washington Post or BBC to check the facts and look for a second or third source and if you were unlucky enough to be the victim of fake news then it was down to the courts to intervene, and that often meant you didn’t get justice.

In his Histories of Social Media, author and consultant Jonathan Salem Baskin predicted the current state of affairs and fake news.  He pointed out that social media was nothing new.  For most of history news was spread by word of mouth alone, and the truth was often just what was most believable.  Many of his stories are grim.

Take the Salem Witch events in 17th century where the accusations of two children were believed and led to the eventual execution of 20 people.

Or the Blood Libel which contributed to widespread anti-Semitism and pogroms.

When any publisher allows a story to circulate because it drives views and shares and does not check the facts it takes us a step closer to those bad old days.

It is incumbent on all publishers, whether media owners or tech companies, to take responsibility for the spread of fake news.  Facebook is to be congratulated for its move towards editorial fact checking. Twitter Co founder Biz Stone is installing a Trust button on new start up Jelly. Those publishers that call themselves premium news sources must now prove that they too can sort the wheat from the chaff, the fake news from the facts, the truthiness from the truth to stop the history of social media becoming the future for us all.


Could CES be better?

Friday, January 20th, 2017

cesWhat struck your imagination at CES, the much anticipated trade show for leading edge developments this year?


Our head of digital Sarah Treliving felt that overall whilst there’s lots of products on show that do cool stuff at the show, only a very few of them feel like they’ve been designed for a current or urgent consumer problem.


Aside from many many more ways to use Amazon’s Alexa there seemed many fine gadgets on display to play with.  Otherwise tech developments for healthcare or security needs received attention.


Products that caught my eye in the reports included: A clothes folding robot (might be nice).  A TV that disappears (not an immediate requirement).  A strap that turns your finger into a phone (hmm).  The development of 3d printers for body parts (will be immensely important).  Robot doctors and connected hearing aids (will be revolutionary where needed).  Jeans that connect to your smartphone and vibrate to give you directions might seem trivial, but could actually really be useful for vulnerable people who don’t want to publicise that they don’t know where they’re going (eg young women on their way to a club late at night).  Of course there’s still lots of news about smart fridges.


One commentator said this about CES overall: “Silicon Valley innovation seems to be focussed on one problem which is ‘what my mother is no longer doing for me…. There’s a culture of rich twenty-something young men imaging a world that the rest of us might not want to live in”.


Dr Jack Stilgoe, from UCL, went on to critique developers for putting too much of a focus on how to get the laundry sorted or food delivered and not enough on real problems.  The truth is that predicting the future is not a precise business and that most of our lives are shaped by old tech still.  There needs to be a balance. A balance between hanging on to the old and putting off change.  Some people said that whilst CES was exciting they had to sit in an old fashioned queue to try the VR tech and that the vending machines were so old school that they didn’t work.  Not that impressive for a conference that holds the promise of solving real problems in the world.


If more women were involved with the business of CES then would this help address the balance?  After all the lion’s share of overall consumer purchasing decisions is made by women.

As my book The Glass Wall points out there’s plenty of statistical proof that businesses do better with more women at senior levels.

“There were precious few women at the conference, I’d say less than 5% of attendees and I was stared at non-stop”, said one of the few women attendees at CES 2017.


Sounds like old school Glass Walls are abundant in this conference that is meant to be future facing.

2017, here comes more chaos, be ready to transform

Monday, January 9th, 2017

butterfly_wings_flap_patterns_26337_3840x24002017 marks thirty years since the original publication of the book that made Chaos Theory popular.

Chaos Theory is a branch of mathematics that explains how huge change can come about unexpectedly from the accumulation of tiny changes.  The most famous example is the butterfly effect. This shows how a tiny change, caused by the flapping of a butterfly’s wings weeks earlier, may lead, when it is added to millions of other tiny changes in the atmosphere, to the formation of a hurricane.

This effect can explain much of what seemed so unpredictable in 2016.  Did those pundits who were shocked by the events of the year really listen to what was truly going on?  Did they just hear what they wanted to?  As the results were so close did tiny differences accumulate in how numbers were rounded up for polls lead to outcomes that have taken many by surprise.

Chaos theory explains why we should be wary of predictions for 2017, and this blog will not make any 2017 predictions.  Here are two suggestions for 2017 instead.

First suggestion: We had better listen with real empathy to the users of our brands and products in 2017.

Use of data is on everyone’s list for this year.  But if that data is in any way contaminated, or fused, then it must be used with great caution.  The differences when one panel is fused with another may be tiny, but those tiny differences can cause a hurricane when you least expect it.  Listening with empathy to consumer voices as well as interrogating the data is therefore essential.

Correlation without causation is not enough. You may know that there’s a correlation between the number of firemen sent to a fire and the amount of damage done.  Does this prove that firemen cause damage? writes that some critics of ObamaCare say that it’s led to more Emergency Room Visits and that this means the law has failed.  Really?  It doesn’t take an expert to come up with other interpretations in either instance.  Spurious correlations abound in marketing and if you can avoid them you’re winning.  Questioning every plausible explanation is not just healthy, it’s crucial for good decisions.

Data is crucial to media delivering the right message, at the right time, to the right consumer.  But if we don’t understand what those consumers need and how they are really feeling then brands will not truly reap the benefits of investing in the data management in the first place.

Second suggestion: more change is coming and it will be transformative.  The butterfly wings have been accumulating so no-one will be able to continue with unchallenged, unexamined heritage practices and succeed in 2017.

For example no-one  can continue to get away with serving content made for one medium everywhere and expect success.  In one overheard conversation last year a media exponent was talking about the fact that the creative agency had developed 7 AV executions for a brand relaunch.  He explained: “For the creative agency this was a revolution, but our media strategy will burn through those 7 executions in one week on Facebook – I actually need 700”.

As AI becomes better this creates the need for a transformation in comms.  Better AI drives higher consumer expectations.  People are quicker to condemn Google for getting the time of a journey slightly wrong now than they are to wonder at the fact that it can accurately predict that your journey is about to take place at all.

Increasing consumer expectations means that people will expect relevancy.  And to buy or use a brand, when and how they want to.  Ecommerce is still a minority choice for most products.  The upside is therefore huge.  Brands need to be considering what is possible, not what has been normal.

2017, keep Chaos theory in mind.  Listen with empathy; be ready for transformative change.