Yellow Vests : Is There A Pilot in the Plane ?

twitter gilets jaunes

Screen Shot of #GiletJaune Account on Twitter

If you don’t know what the yellow vests (“gilets jaunes”) are, here is a recap: it is a movement started in France in October on social media to oppose another tax increase on gas at the pump. Since then, demands have multiplied and the movement has not faded, leading to the announcement of new measures on Dec. 10 by President Emmanuel Macron, who so far had remained silent. Now, the ball is back in the yellow vests’ camp.

As I have been observing this movement in my home country, the most basic question struck me: who is the yellow vests representative?

I would like to talk about how the movement took off and became so successful on social media, and how its lack of structure could kill it, perhaps via social media.

  1. The Rising Tide

In October, a woman named Jacline Mouraud posted a video on her Facebook page to express her frustration about increasing taxes in France, especially on gas at the pump, calling viewers to either join her or do their own video to protest excess taxation.

Video from Jacline Mouraud’s FB Page: Coup de geules de jacline mouraud #macron #cnews #bfmtv #lci #franceinfo

The video went viral and soon a “Mouvement National Contre la Hausse du Carburant” (National Mouvement Against Higher Gasoline Prices) was born. The media called participants the “yellow jackets”.

Protests have been organized via social media, mainly Facebook, with the first one on Nov. 17.

A testament to the success of the movement, opposition parties, students, and even retirees tagged on to it and the rest of Europe did more than taking note, with the unrest spreading to cities such as Sofia (Bulgaria) and Brussels (Belgium).

eu flag free

Pixabay images –  EU Flag

  1. Where is The Pilot?

Such a success led the French government to grant a meeting with some of the movement’s participants.

But this is where the lack of structure and organization of the movement caught up with realities of life: the representatives of the government cannot not meet with a “movement”. They need to meet with designated people representing that movement. Not to mention that demands have exploded from one to more than 40.

Some personalities stood out and eventually met with the government. But there still isn’t any clear voice and face of the movement.

Today, as a reporter, if I wanted to interview a representative of the movement to get a single message, I could not. I would have to speak with several people, with a multitude of interests, leaving anger as the only common place.

  1. Do yellow vests need an election?

The movement did obtain results nonetheless.

On Dec. 5, Macron cancelled the tax increase on gas prices for 2019. On Monday, the president announced other measures to boost low incomes.

Such concessions from the government could be a measure of success. Yet, protests continue.

But so does chaos in the organization of the movement.

The longer the yellow vests will take to find a common voice expressed through a legitimate representative, the more time detractors – fake news, violent protestors, opposition parties – will have to divide or manipulate both participants in the movement and the population more broadly.

This tells me that movements originating on social media could die by social media if they fail to get structured.

That means the plane needs a pilot ASAP if the movement wants to last in a democracy and maintain its credibility, perhaps through elections.

Do you think there should be an elected representative of the movement in your view?

And if so, is it a good idea to organize elections on Facebook to elect a representative?

 

twitterCan #GiletsJaunes movement last without changes? Here is what I think: bit.ly/2RV60tL

img_0035-1 Have you heard of the GiletsJaunes movement in France? Can it last without structure? Share your side here: bit.ly/2RV60tL

Does Social Media Deepen Political Divide?

vote here

Photo: Yali N’Diaye – Voting poll in Washington, DC

Politicians are increasingly using social media to reach out to (potential) voters. In and of itself, this is just an evolution of communications strategies that leverage new tools and take advantage of the cheap and direct access to the public. There is nothing wrong about this. To the contrary, especially when the public’s feedback is taken seriously.

From this standpoint, social media should, in fact, cement relationships between decision makers and the public, and foster understanding between people with diverging views. Ultimately, such exchanges should help resolve divides in a society and move towards solutions that favor a more harmonious cohabitation of the different views.

Missed opportunity

That would be in a perfect world where the race for power and party interests would not take over the good of the nation as a whole.

The diversity of parties and ideas is a good thing for democracy. But when parties themselves only play the blame game without offering clear and inspiring visions, and polarize the debate, they drive the population to extremes with them, even without social media.

The U.S. divided Congress’ inability to come together in 2011 to find a plan to reduce deficits was the first reason for the country to lose its AAA rating, meaning everyone pays a higher price for it. S&P Global then said “the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened.”

Since then, things have worsened. The use of social media has greatly spread within government, but the polarization of politics has translated into polarized exchanges online.

In my view, this has been a missed opportunity for politicians to show how they could rise above divisions for the good of all, instead of transferring their fights onto platforms where informed and uninformed views cross paths, rarely leading to constructive exchanges, and often even deepening divides.

Populations are chiming in, often with little knowledge or research effort, providing emotional opinions, if not straight insults.

Here is a Tweet from Donald Trump (@realdonald) in 2015 in response to the terrorist attack on French weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo, and some reactions at the bottom:

charlie

Photo: Screen shot of @realdonald (Donald Trump) account

Growing divisions

Such a tweet could only encourage strong reactions charged with emotion, in support or against it.

Social media also contributes to the prominence of image over substance as platforms don’t lend themselves to in-depth discussion given the limited space on Twitter or blogs that cater to a society with limited attention span when it comes to reading.

Just like in real life, people tend to gravitate around like-minded people, limiting their exposure to one side of the political spectrum. But on social media, the proliferation of news, fake or real, amplifies this one-sided view. Such “echo chambers”, according to a research published in the scientific journal PNAS

http://www.pnas.org/content/115/37/9216, prevents “people from being exposed to information that contradicts their preexisting beliefs.”

Can it be fixed?

Social media does offer opportunities for movements to emerge and bring the debate forward, such as the #MeToo movement, that is actually forcing change in organizations, including in the political sphere.

So there is positivity on social media. However, how to make two opposite movements actually talk to each other to find common ground?

How to leverage social media so that they can foster a more constructive dialogue among people with diverging views? Should politicians give the example first?

 

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Can social media foster #dialogue in a world of political #divide? See what I think bit.ly/2Rs4Q8U

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Does social media deepen political divide? See more at bit.ly/2Rs4Q8U and share your views!

 

3 LESSONS FROM DOLCE & GABANNA’S CAMPAIGN BACKLASH

stefano-gabbana-domenico-dolce-portrait credit DG website

Photo: Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana– Dolce & Gabana’s website.

When I look at the backlash of the latest campaign in China by luxury brand Dolce & Gabbana (DG) – with the brand pulled from key retail websites, cancelling hopes for a revenue boost in a country that represents 30% of purchases of luxury goods worldwide – 3 things come to my mind:

  1. Using the same strategy doesn’t yield the same result

The speed and scale with which news can spread through social media, and the ability of the audience to respond instantaneously to content, makes every experience unique. This ability to actively react on social media is a game changer. This interaction could go both ways: amplify the initial effort or turn it into a disaster faster than we can think through an active campaign (#BoycottDolce). And I believe this is why using the same strategy twice could yield different results.

DG is no stranger to provocation. So far, it had managed to avoid fatal setbacks. However, this time around could have been one too many times.

This means that when using the same strategy, a brand might still be better off reviewing it carefully in the new context.

This could have been avoided by thinking through the strategy in a culturally different market, which brings me to the second lesson.

  1. Cultural Differences Matter

DG’s ad was addressing Chinese consumers with an approach perceived as filled with racist stereotypes.

Research about the culture may have allowed the fashion company to anticipate that their provocative approach would not sit well with the Chinese public.

  1. Authenticity Brings Value

An alleged Instagram exchange between Gabbana and Diet Prada, filled with new racist comments, took the uproar to another level.

diet prada

Screen shot from Diet Prada’s Instagram account

Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce said on Instagram that their account had been hacked, which was not the type of response desired by the public. The blame made the following comment sound like it was unauthentic: “We have nothing but respect for China and the people of China.”

DGINSTAGRAM

Screen shot from DG’s Instagram Account

The anger led to the cancellation of DG fashion show that was scheduled in Shangai. The brand was withdrawn from key Internet sites, and a video apology from DG did not appease the anger.

Perhaps taking responsibility for their actions and coming up with a sincere apology demonstrating accountability would have allowed customers to feel they were taken seriously and valued.

There are no doubt more lessons from this failed campaign, which makes a good candidate for textbooks about social media marketing.

Which lessons do you draw from this backlash?

Does this episode mark a turning point that could lead marketers to review their approach to social media marketing and how far they can go to put their brand on the radar?

Did you follow Dolce & Gabbana’s latest provocation about Chinese culture and its backlash? Here are 3 lessons to draw from DG’s failed campaign: http://bit.ly/2FDQdOa

#DolceGabbana provokes again. This time it backfires with #BoycottDolce. Here are 3 lessons: http://bit.ly/2FDQdOa

CAN WE GET RID OF FAKE NEWS?

As a reporter, I can tell you that the popularity of my job has dived even within my personal network.

Worse, the trust once associated with news reports from mainstream media has eroded and more and more of my friends are telling me that the media is too biased or one-sided, a view that I find has been increasingly echoed on social media platforms. Fake news, however, is not the answer.

First we need to differentiate fake from biased. Second, we need to clarify the role of mainstream media in spreading fake news. And finally, let’s see if social media platforms are taking useful steps to get rid of fake news.

fake news pic

Biased Vs. Fake

Truth be told, media outlets do tend to have a bias, especially when it comes to political reporting. Based on editorial endorsements in Canada’ 2015 election, for instance, the National Post is more conservative than the Toronto Star, which endorsed the Liberal Party.

However, a bias merely reflects a view of how society or the economy, for instance, should work. Writing with that view in mind does alter the way events or data are interpreted: the same budget deficit could be too much for one observer and acceptable for the other.

The key here, however, is that the budget number itself is the same in both analyses. The reason is that this figure is the fact, and in both approaches, that fact remains correct and unbiased, coming from the same source.

Altering the number itself to fit a narrative would become misinformation or fake news.

Mainstream Media

To be sure, misinformation has occurred within mainstream media, sometimes on purpose, sometimes by mistake.

The pressure to deliver scoop after scoop, or to beat the competition, has led some reporters and anchors from mainstream media to provide distorted, if not totally fake, accounts of reality.

NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams was suspended for half a year in 2015 after he “ misrepresented events which occurred while he was covering the Iraq War in 2003 “, as NBC News President Deborah Turness told her staff.

Sometimes, the misinformation came from a genuine mistake, which most of the time is corrected by the news outlet. This was the case of ABC reporter Brian Ross, who was suspended for a “serious error”.

In such cases, however, be it a mistake or a deliberate act of misinformation from the reporter, news outlets themselves are not supporting such actions and take corrective and/or punitive measures against the reporter responsible for it.

Editorial guidelines and controls should prevent such situations from occurring and the fact that they continue to happen shows there is definitely room for improvement.

Yet, it doesn’t suggest mainstream media is spreading fake news.

Social Media Platforms Taking Some Steps

icons social media.jpg

You and me, the users of social media, are the ones generating content. Facebook or Twitter are, however, amplifying the voice of such users given the instantaneous and global reach they provide.

Social media platforms have seen a proliferation of news that distort the facts themselves to serve a narrative. Interference into elections is one of the most dangerous uses of fake news: if successful, it’s the future of an entire nation that can be turned around by tricking voters into believing false stories.

According to a study published earlier this year, social media platforms have played a key role in misinformation during the U.S. 2016 presidential election campaign, especially Facebook.

The research found that “1 in 4 Americans visited a fake news website from October 7-November 14, 2016.” It added that “almost 6 in 10 visits to fake news web-sites came from the 10% of people with the most conservative online information diets. We also find that Facebook was a key vector of exposure to fake news and that fact-checks of fake news almost never reached its consumers.”

Initially, platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or YouTube simply considered themselves as just that: platforms lending support to people to express themselves, whatever they had to say, hence respecting the principle of free speech.

But that view has changed and those platforms have become more proactive in tackling fake news.

Facebook has been “working to stop misinformation and false news.”

During the summer, Facebook, Youtube, and Spotify banned conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ Infowars, with Twitter following soon after.

This change amounted, in my view, to the recognition that social media platforms bear more responsibility in the spread of fake news than they initially accepted, and that will likely force further actions down the road to address this issue.

In October, Facebook came up with a “war room” to address the misuse of its platform, notably fake stories aimed at influencing elections.

Looking ahead

Some critics believe such efforts aim at correcting the bad PR and improve the platform’s image.

But even if that was the end objective, it would have to be successful at reducing fake news in order to improve the company’s image. So it is still a step forward in my view.

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Facebook removed hundreds of accounts suspected of spreading fake stories, showing the extent to which such platforms can amplify the reach of these stories.

Do you think such efforts can be successful in tackling fake news?

Should lawmakers and politicians handle the issue by adopting new laws?

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img_0035  Can We Get Rid Of Fake News?

img_0036 Can We Get Rid Of Fake News?