Banning AVEs in PR..? You Canute be serious

Over the last week or two there’s been a proper little shitstorm (someone else’s word for it, not mine) blowing because of a document produced by media monitoring and online sentiment analysis firm Meltwater.

Some of it has been a bit hysterical if you ask me.

But before I go any further, I want to state for the record that in the past Meltwater was a client of a PR consultancy I worked at; I managed their PR account. I have also been a Meltwater customer in the past. But I have had no dealings with the company or any of its staff for a number of years.

Back to the aforementioned shitstorm.

Ball of confusion

The document from Meltwater focused on the use of AVE (advertising value equivalents) as a way of measuring PR effectiveness and return on investment (ROI) in PR activity. In short, it works a bit like this – if you got your client some coverage in a newspaper and that coverage took up about half a page, then find out how much it would have cost to put an advert on that half a page. Then multiply that cost by three (or five, or eight, or magic beans, who cares). Why multiply it..? Because PR is more effective than advertising, and therefore more value is derived from it. Which is why companies read out press releases in those little commercial breaks between the TV shows you watch … oh, wait, I think I made that last bit up.

The shitstorm (there’s that word again) struck when some people who work in the PR industry who do not like AVEs, because they are unscientific and silly (the AVEs, not the PR people… ), took issue with Meltwater saying AVEs can be used as a way of measuring ROI in PR.

The things is, there are no universally used and accepted metrics for assessing ROI in PR. That’s one of the biggest weaknesses facing PR. It’s no surprise it’s a very touchy subject, because in these increasingly digital times, when everything can be measured, the inability to directly link a piece of PR activity to a tangible financial benefit is a perceived weakness for many. There’s a set of guidelines known as the Barcelona Principles which many in the PR sector adhere to (with a fervour that frankly makes me a little uncomfortable … it’s not a belief system… or is it?) as the future of measuring PR effectiveness. I’m no expert, and you can look it up online if you feel so inclined, but the Barcelona Principles strike me as a great attempt at defining the problem; I’m just not sure they are the answer. I’m also not sure a great many businesses hiring PR practitioners, whether as agency teams, solo service providers, or in-house resources, will have the patience or the interest in something as nebulous as “measurement must focus on “conversation” and “communities” not just “coverage”..”

Pass me my slide rule – I’m off to measure a conversation.

Anyway, back to the skitsnack (hej Sverige… kan du höra mig?).

Yours truly, angry mob

Things got a bit febrile in the old Twittersphere on Friday, with a lot of noise being made by a small number of PR practitioners (and others) all sounding off quite vociferously about how truly awful it was that Meltwater should be giving advice on how to measure AVEs, how truly truly awful AVEs are, and how truly truly truly awful anyone using AVEs must therefore be.

It all got a little bit angry mob, which is never anything other than ugly, and absolutely never productive.

I was saddened (although not much, in truth) to see some leading figures in the PR world among the mob’s chief agitators. People who ought to understand that PR agencies are at the beck and call of their clients, and that if those clients want AVE figures, then the agency will provide them – to do otherwise might put a client relationship in jeopardy.

These are still trying economic times in many parts of the UK and in many business sectors – not everyone is in London or the south east, and not everyone is working with clients who operate in booming sectors. When it comes to client/agency relationships, rocking the boat is a privilege few get to enjoy; you have to be big and influential to get away with it, usually.

I wondered what it might feel like to be the head of an agency that isn’t in London, that isn’t experiencing an economic upturn, watching others in the industry heaping scorn upon you from their privileged positions. I wondered what it would be like if you are constantly compromising on what you’d like to do in order to keep clients happy (or just to keep them) and seeing one of the things you have to do being so openly mocked.

Are there better ways to measure PR effectiveness than AVEs? Yes, probably. Although that really depends on what your definition of effective is in the case of the PR activity you are undertaking. However, I don’t think it’s good enough for those in a privileged position to be quite so scathing about something that only exists because of the demand for it from clients.

Calls to stamp it out are as ludicrous as they are unhelpful, and hint at a fundamental failure to understand the economics and mechanics of the PR industry. Which is just a bit mind boggling given that much of the ardent criticism was coming from people who have worked in the PR industry for a very long time and done very well. Maybe they’ve had it too good for too long. Maybe it’s easier to point and laugh, or yell and shout, than it is to offer constructive, actionable advice on how to get your clients to give up their AVE dependency.

Back to basics

Now, about five years ago one of my PR clients was a large and well-known bank. At a kick-off meeting we discussed – among other things – reporting … how would the client like to measure the progress we were intending to achieve? We talked about a range of options and measures, but in the end the client was resolute; they wanted a monthly AVE figure that could be easily circulated to other stakeholders within the bank who wouldn’t understand the subtleties of changed perceptions or share of voice, or whatever, but for whom a simple number was the lingua franca.

It’s all vaguely reminiscent of the bit in the book The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where a supercomputer is asked what’s the answer to question of life, the universe and everything (or words to that effect) – the answer is 42, apparently. A supremely unhelpful answer derived from not understanding the question; if you don’t measure the correct outcome, you’ll never know what progress you’re making.

It also reminds me of an old saying … he who pays the piper calls the tune.

If I want something and have the money to pay for it, whether it’s AVEs or a rendition of Scotland the Brave, you won’t change my mind by taking away someone’s bagpipes, or trying to ban AVEs (what a laughable idea that is when you see it written down).

There will always be other pipers. There will always be other PR agencies … more interested in servicing clients and saying yes to everything than they are with educating their clients.

It’s basic supply and demand.

Denying that reality is a bit like trying to turn back the tide by force of your own puffed up ego.


Additional reading – Explaining PR’s Barcelona Principles


The end of social

I dislike predictions. But I’m going to make one… there will be no more big social networks. We’ve reached, and passed, a tipping point.


Because they’re all being strangled at birth by over-eager PR and marketing people, who – for all their impressive-sounding job titles and amazeballs CVs – seem to have completely forgotten all the basics of social.

Twitter and Facebook dominate the social landscape for most of us*. Similarly, they dominate the marketing spend of those brands that advertise on social media.

There’s a clear cause-and-effect thing going on here … first came the platform, then came millions of regular users, then (and only then) came the marketing and PR people.

That’s the way it works. The logic is pretty robust and if you felt like it, you could template it and see that it applies in many other walks of life.

Something has been lost, or forgotten, though.

Because now, when a new social platform launches, before most people have even created an account or downloaded an app there’s a slew of ill-conceived blog pieces and articles from marcomms people all treading the same tired old ground … ‘what brands should do on X…’

Almost none of them say “what brands should do is back off for a while, see if this thing gathers momentum, whether or not people will naturally gravitate to it, and if so what their behaviour can tell us about how we should use this platform – if at all.”

David Meyer wrote a piece on Gigaom which hits the nail on the head as far as the recent launch of Jelly was concerned… “Goodbye for now, Jelly – it’s not you it’s the marketers.”

And he’s right!

I’ve been an active and enthusiastic user of social media since before that term became common parlance – dig around in the archives of the Scotsman and the FT and you might even find me quoted in articles as far back as 2006 on how businesses could use social media for research and recruitment.

But it pains me when I see people in my sphere of work forever caught up in the Emperor’s new clothes outlook.

It really wouldn’t kill any of you to slow down a little, ask a few questions, be intellectually curious and maybe even a little sceptical.

From a purely pragmatic perspective, if we choose to ignore the old recipe for success, which turned the likes of Facebook and Twitter into the enormous beasts they are, we’re doing ourselves and our clients a disservice and we’ll eventually be over-taken by events – or smarter thinkers.

Your clients are – or should be – paying you for your consultancy. So be a consultant. If they just wanted to spend time in the company of someone to jump up and down on the spot shrieking excitedly, they’d get a job at a soft-play centre.


* – Europe, North America, the Antipodes, etc… ‘the West’ as it’s sometimes called.

The King is Hacked, Long Live the King

So, the Burger King Twitter account was somehow hacked into on Monday (18 February). Did you see it? Were you aware? Do you even care?

There was certainly a great deal of brouhaha in the immediate aftermath, almost exclusively from people who work in the marketing, PR and social media sectors.

In short, someone took over the official Burger King Twitter account, changed the BK logo to a McDonalds’ logo and started tweeting nonsense. Some of it said that Burger King had been sold to McDonalds, most of it wasn’t funny and was filled with grammatical errors.

You can read more about it here.

The decision was eventually taken by Burger King – once they had regained control of it – to suspend the account. Presumably to clear out all the nefarious tweets, check they weren’t following any undesirables, and to send someone from their digital marketing team to sit on the naughty step and think about what had happened. At the time of publishing this piece, the Burger King account had reappeared.

But amid the sound and fury that gripped my Twitter stream on Monday afternoon, I couldn’t help but wonder does any of this actually matter?

“Will sales of Burger King food fall because of the hack?” asked one person I follow on Twitter.

I think it was a genuine question. The answer, quite obviously, is no. The quality of the food sold by Burger King is not affected in any way, directly or indirectly, by what happens on Twitter.

I retorted by saying in the event that sales of Burger King food don’t fall thanks to this very public social media problem, should we all conclude that social media is utterly pointless?

Well, of course the answer to that one is also no.

What this alludes to though is the question of how one assesses the value of – and ROI from – social media. And the chances are that sales of your core products is not the right metric.

Research commissioned by Nexus Communications last year into the grocery shopping habits of UK households’ primary shoppers, found that a staggeringly low two per cent cited social media as having influence over the choices they make.

Social media is not the place to promote your products and push your messages onto people. It’s where people will expect to find you listening, talking, answering their questions, and generally being a bit more human than you are elsewhere – like on your website.

People will come to your Facebook page to participate in competitions and take advantage of offers and vouchers – no one with the Facebook account needs to pay full price with the likes of Domino’s Pizza, for example.

But if you’re not measuring the pull-through from offers and competitions, if you’re not tracking the offline redemption of online vouchers, how can you know what’s working and what isn’t?

In short, if you’re measuring the wrong thing – no matter what it is – you’re measuring the wrong thing.

I’m not privy to the ins and outs of what Burger King’s social media KPIs might be, but I’d be surprised if burger sales is one of the main ones.

Right, I’m off in search of a Whopper. Who’s with me?

(This piece was first published on the Nexus Communications website. You used to be able to find it here. You can’t any more as someone has moved it.)


The time is running out for vanity metrics

Social media has come a long way. You can tell this by its ubiquity.

Back in the late 1990s when I was a tech journalist, I interviewed the MD of Acer UK, an Australian chap called Dion Weisler. He was a great interview subject, quickly setting the tone for a relaxed and informative conversation, peppered with tales of swimming training (he swam in the Australian Olympic team). These days he’s running HP in Asia Pacific & Japan.

One of the last questions I asked him that day was about the internet. Back then there was a lot of talk about the internet and what it might or might not do. When, I asked, would the internet become something businesses could rely upon and use productively.

“When people stop thinking about it,” came the answer. My blank look must have prompted further explanation – “when it’s a utility, like the phone, you just take it for granted and use it,” he said.

That conversation took place almost 15 years ago; it’s funny how some things stick in your head. Well, in my head.

We’re not quite there with social media, but stone me if it isn’t just about everywhere these days. And almost simultaneously the world has gone stats and data mad.

It strikes me as somewhat ironic that we have the ability to measure so much, yet so many businesses and social media acolytes are failing, day in day out, to actually measure anything of value.

How many likes you have, how many people follow you on Twitter, how many retweets you get… these remain the Dollars and Cents, the Pounds and the Pence of how the bulk of the digital comms world accounts for itself.

And yet these numbers are at best valueless, and at worst completely pointless. The only purpose they serve is to allow you to show off about how seemingly popular you are.

Sooner or later, this has to stop.

So why not make it sooner?

These vanity metrics might make the less enlightened look, and feel, productive, relative and validated. They might even cut it with mid-level marketing managers who are being judged against a fairly unimaginative set of criteria. But they are no indication of anything transactional ever having taken place. Nor whether anything ever will.

Sadly, once those mid-level marketing managers’ quarterly reports go further up the chain of command, any detail there was starts to become diluted. Similarly, the likelihood of finding many people sitting on the board with an instinctive feeling for digital communications becomes a remote one.

Which is great if way back down at the agency coalface you haven’t actually got a clue about how you’re going to help your client sell any more of those things they sell in order to make the money that eventually trickles down and pays your miserable wages.

If no one’s ever really pushed back and challenged you on why they ought to be forking over great wads of cash in order for you to increase the number of likes their Facebook page gets, I’ve got news for you – they will eventually.

Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon… as the line in the movie Casablanca goes.

A lot of money has been spent on social media marketing. The number of social media marketing case studies with actual demonstrable ROI doesn’t reflect that.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t intend to be one of those who can’t answer the ‘show me the money’ question once the board-level execs finally start to question whether digital communications activities are worth the paper they’re written on.

If the things you measure are lacking in business value, you need to start measuring something else. It could be web traffic or sales leads, who knows… just make it something that your client’s business can relate to.

See also:

Why it’s time to stop counting your retweets


Fake authenticity: the compassion lie

I may lose friends. I may attract abuse. But this is one of those moments when I feel like I can no longer resist the urge to point and shout “the king is in the altogether.”

What am I talking about?

Fake authenticity.

Never heard of it? There’s a lot of it about, and you’d do worse than read this piece by Jonathan MacDonald – The Fallacy of Social Media.

In it he touches upon the fake approach taken to telling stories and building relationships online, particularly in the realm of social media.

Someone once said to me that to use expressions like “telling stories” in the context of PR was to admit that it was all spin, lies and bullshit.

The more I reflect on that the more convinced I am that it’s one of the most ignorant things anyone’s ever said to me and I should have said as much at the time.

Whether you are an individual, a brand marketer, a politician, a social media coordinator, when you are telling people something about who you are, what you do, how you behave, or what you believe in, you are telling them your story.

If you bullshit them you’ll get found out eventually.

Something Jonathan MacDonald picks up on is a piece of advice mooted by someone that says: “Act like you’re a company made of real, actual people, and good things will surely follow.”

It’s a liars charter in tl;dr form. And I find it quite distasteful.

As I’ve already said, there’s a lot of it about. And it’s not just brands that are doing it. I see a lot of people in my stream doing it constantly.

Recently jazz musician Terry Callier died. But for his work with the likes of Massive Attack he would only have been known to a fraction of the people in my stream – those who are serious-minded fans of music, or seek out interesting non-mainstream things to listen to. I don’t fall into either of those categories, just to be clear.

I remain unconvinced that a great many people who own something he worked on had ever heard of him either. In fact, I got a bit nauseated by the wave of “oh that’s terrible. #rip” tweets I saw from people who spend most Saturday evenings are watching X-Factor.

Oh, yes you are a very serious and dedicated follower of interesting musical collaborations, aren’t you?

No, you’re not. You’re a bullshit merchant trying to make yourself look cool, or – worse – desperately hoping to connect with something real, something meaningful to fill that foetid hole you drag round with you everywhere you are.

It was also evident in the wake of Hurricane Sandy making landfall in the US. “It’s awful,” read one tweet I saw, “13 people have been killed. #sandy”

Yes, of course it’s awful. Truly awful. Particularly for those directly involved. But do you know what else is awful…? The fact that the person whose tweet I saw – and the dozens more like them – had expressed no concern or compassion whatsoever for those left dead, displaced and traumatized by Sandy in Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba, the Bahamas, and probably other parts of the Caribbean too. Haiti hasn’t recovered from the earthquake it was hit by in 2010, and was in the midst of a cholera outbreak when Sandy passed close by. So fucking what, eh..?

The death toll in the Caribbean is around 70. Probably more. It’s possible no one will ever know.

The only time I saw anyone on twitter referring to that was as a counterpoint to the many, many, “I hope everyone in New York stays safe” type tweets.

Why is it that so many people, here in the UK, were so eager to express such concern?

Dislocated empathy. Not misplaced. Dislocated.

Of course we all hoped that everyone was going to be ok in New York and elsewhere in the US. The same ought to apply to everywhere that was in the path of Hurricane Sandy. No..?

Yet it would appear to be ok, desirable even, to carry on ignoring the plight of poor black countries hit by disaster, when latte-sipping, iPhone-using, GAP-shopping people, wherever they may be, have also been affected by something bad.

I know it’s easier to identify with people who have similar lives, but that’s no excuse, in my opinion, for not giving enough of a damn about the rest of the world to pause your lazy thinking and cast off your me-opia.

It made me rather cross. Still does. You might have noticed.

But more than that, it was telling to see the stories people tell about themselves.

Who do I indentify with..? Who can I identify with..? What kind of person shall I be today…

If you’re a genuinely compassionate person, and care about what happens to others, you can see further than those that wear the same clothes as you, or even the countries where you have personal contacts.

And you aren’t compelled to bleat about it in public in an attempt to define yourself.

Fake authenticity.

Nice work people.


Why it’s time to stop counting your retweets

How easy would it be to write a post ridiculing the practice of assessing the success and relevance of your social media activity by counting the number of retweets, likes, followers or fans you have?

I think we all know it would be quite easy.

How much value would there be in my doing that?  Well, about as much value as there is in assessing the success and relevance of your social media activity by counting the number of retweets, likes, followers or fans you have.

Did you see what I did there?

I read a blog post today in which someone said they’d tweeted something about the Uberdaddy of record-breaking sky-diving, Felix Baumgartner. That tweet was then retweeted more than 5,000 times, reaching more than 140,000 people’s streams.

Woah..! Big numbers.

Big so what, too.

In an exchange on Twitter with a social marketer at one of the world’s premier sports brands, I recently said something that went a little bit like this:

Measuring your online relevance simply by counting how many retweets you get is a bit like driving all the way to the supermarket at the weekend, not actually going in to buy anything, but still considering it to have been a trip to the supermarket.

Technically, that’s a trip to the supermarket.

You don’t have anything to eat though.

One point I (try) to make to the brands I speak to about how they measure social success – and more importantly how they should measure social success – is that surely it has to be better for their business to find 50 people they know are spending money with them than to have 50,000 Facebook likes from people who probably aren’t.

That’s me all over though… I state the obvious.

Social media. Digital communications. Where did it all go wrong? We let it fall under the spell of people with no real experience of what it takes to create genuine interest and actionable desire.

Affecting a sustainable change in people’s perceptions and behaviour is not as hard as it might seem. As for measuring those changes, well OK that is a little bit hard. But it’s not impossible and it gets a good deal easier when you know what it is you’re trying to measure and why.

A former business contact of mine got a job last year as a “social media coordinator.”  I posited that one day, maybe in three-to-five years, there wouldn’t be anyone with the word social in their job title.  It’s all just media.

We need to stop dressing it all up as something it isn’t and get back to the business of crafting great narrative, building compelling brand stories, and measuring the things that really matter.


O2 and the social media handbrake turn

Did O2 get it right on twitter in the wake of their network outage problems?


And yes.

This may be one of the biggest clichés in PR and comms, but it gets to the heart of a very important consideration – what are you trying to achieve, and what does success look like?

When I and thousands of other O2 users found we couldn’t make calls or send texts, we turned to twitter to see what else we could learn about the problem… was it happening to anyone else, was there an explanation, and so on.  The O2 support page seemed to go offline around the same time, possibly due to being swamped by enquiries.

Twitter was soon a-buzz with tweets from disgruntled O2 customers.

There wasn’t a great deal of information coming out of O2 and the grumbles began to grow in volume and intensity. The O2 twitter account seemed to go a bit quiet at that point too.

By Thursday, O2 seemed to be more in control of itself, if not of the glitch that had caused the outage, and the company’s twitter stream was soon alive with responses to customers.

O2 is one of the few brands I follow and interact with on twitter. Not just because I’m a customer, although that is ultimately the explanation, but also because I’ve always thought they got the balance of interaction and broadcast right. There was a human touch to the O2 account but it never overpowered the O2 brand.

But in my opinion the wheels came off on Thursday.

If you check out Karen Webber’s excellent piece about the outage on NewsReach you’ll see what is probably the most famous tweet from O2 in response to an abusive customer’s tweet. It was inspired. Genuinely funny.

That whoever was staffing the twitter account was given the freedom to do that is a masterstoke.

However, I also got the impression that the huge positive sentiment that tweet elicited from the wider audience prompted someone at O2 to declare “do more tweets like that, I think we’ve found our way out.”

For a while it seemed that O2’s motivation on twitter was no longer to inform or engage with customers, but to demonstrate how achingly funny the brand could be – how irreverent and not-at-all-how-you-expected it was capable of being.

For me, that joke wore thin pretty quickly.

It was clever though.

Social media is a fickle environment. The speed with which people get enthused and subsequently bored is staggering at times. So, why not take advantage of that..?  Which is what O2 did.

By engaging in a spot of banter, attempting to shock us all a little by responding to remarks about anal sex with people’s mothers for example, the brand was executing the perfect social media handbrake turn.

O2 outage..? What O2 outage..?? Look over here – they’re being funny about tweeting first and fellating in hell later, and joining in with jokes about pigeons.

Did O2 get it right? I think that depends entirely on what we think they were trying to achieve. If it was reassuring customers (and don’t forget some of them rely on O2 for their business) that the problem had been identified and was being put right, I don’t think so. If it was turning the tide of negative tweets, then yes.

They could have posted some animated cat gifs, that would probably have had the same effect in terms of getting the angry mob to put down the pitchforks and torches.

Personally, I think there was too much emphasis on trying to be clever and funny, and not enough on acknowledging the problem.

Footnote: can you see sour grapes here? If you feel like trawling through my twitter stream you’ll find a tweet from me to O2 stating that despite being inconvenienced by the outage, I wasn’t feeling at all aggrieved. There are no sour grapes.

Breaking news: sorry Twitter, journalism still wins out

Two things happened in London in the space of 24 hours that, once again, had me – and plenty of others – musing on the role of Twitter as a channel for breaking news.

On Thursday 26 April, there was an incident on the Bakerloo line of the London Underground (that’s the brown one).

I learned about it first thanks to twitter. But here’s what I learned. I learned that something had happened – it might have been a tube train crash, or a collapsed tunnel, or a train might have hit a bulge in the wall of a tunnel, or the tunnel might be flooded, or some plasterwork might have fallen off the tunnel walls onto the track, or there might have been a terrorist attack.

My, what a lot of things I learned from Twitter that morning.

I looked online at some reputable news providers’ websites to see what I might learn from them.  It took a while for the news to appear on the likes of the BBC or the Evening Standard websites. As is right and proper.

On Friday 27 April, news broke on Twitter that there had been a bomb scare on Tottenham Court Road (a very busy shopping street, complete with a major theatre, lots of offices, pubs, restaurants etc, and a tube station that was featured in An American Werewolf in London). There were pics too.

Someone observed that the bomb scare (which during the time I was writing this piece morphed into a hostage situation) had been trending on Twitter for half an hour, but still no mention on the mainstream news sites…. prompting one person to ask  “do we need 24hr news channels anymore?” (@mattaudley)

But I like this tweet best: “What the hell is going on at #tcr?!? The bazillion varied reports are bloody confusing!” (@/betti_ttt)

The story was still developing while I was writing, but this is the BBC’s take on it. And as of the time I published this piece, there were no reports of injuries – I can only hope that stays the case.

Responsible journalism demands that stories are confirmed (“stood up” in the vernacular). That you have more than one source to corroborate the lead or rumour, and that you explore the facts. At its heart the job of the journalist is to find out what is actually going on and present people with reliable facts*. Otherwise news is nothing more than a lot of rumour and speculation.

There is (and will always be) a role for traditional journalism and regular news outlets – it’s in cutting through the confusion and presenting people with the facts.

That’s something Twitter will never be able to do, because even if one tweet gets immediately to the heart of the matter, the next 50 might offer nothing but fear, uncertainty and doubt. And how on earth is one to tell the difference.

footnote: anyone who tells you journalism is all about getting to “the truth” is either a self-aggrandising liar, or a fool.


Social media has not evolved

Any discussion of the evolution of social media misses the point. It’s the evolution of the user that has been the biggest change in the last three years.

First it was “what is the point?”

Now it’s “we must find the point!”

That’s not a technology thing. That’s people realising the potential that (some but not all) social media platforms have and trying to be among the first to exploit that potential.

The change was slow at first. As is often the case.

Googleplus was the first major new platform that had brand managers and marketers rushing around frantically. Each time Facebook makes a change you see the same thing.  That’s to say, I don’t remember the same amount of marcoms clamour around Quora.

But it’s happening with new kids on the social block now in a way that didn’t happen before.

Pinterest and Percolate are two such examples.

Yes, there are people asking “what *is* the point?” of these platforms.  But increasingly there are people investigating their potential use in a brand advocacy manner.

Fake Gary Glitter – the best & worst of Twitter

There was a little bit of a commotion last week when an account on twitter called @OfficialGlitter started getting a lot of attention.
I think the sum total of my involvement initially was to tweet that I thought the disgraced pop star was dead. But lots of people were talking about this account, which to all intents and purposes appeared to belong to Gary Glitter, who rose to prominence in the 1970s as a singer, and then again in the late 1990s for offences connected to child pornography.
He was then imprisoned in Vietnam in 2006. If you need more background on this stuff, JFGI.
More than 17,000 people started following the account, including a number of high profile celebrities and public figures. There were plenty of negative opinions voiced but a lot of people tweeted some very positive comments to, and about, the account – which they believed to be the real thing.
It was not.
According to the person, or people, behind the fake account the whole thing had been a “social experiment.” A Tumblr page laid out an attempt at explanation, citing the main reason to be to demonstrate just how gullible some people are online. It also made the point that there is nothing to actually prevent a convicted peodophile from setting themselves up on twitter, and no way of being able to tell real from fake.
I think the first time I wrote about the internet and child pornography was in 1997. So this issue is nothing new to me, and I sometimes think I’ve got a more highly-tuned sense of caution than most people when it comes to internet fakery and staying safe.

One extract from the blog says: “Apart from the thousands of negative and abusive comments I got whilst impersonating Glitter, it amazed me and deeply disturbed me to see a shocking amount of positive, encouraging and supportive comments that people were giving to a convicted child rapist.”
And this is where the really good stuff started to happen… in the wake of the big reveal.
The too-cool-for-school brigade appeared en masse to vilify whoever was behind the fake account. The majority of them were the usual empty vessels that can generally be relied upon to be seen struggling to elevate themselves by dint of pushing others down.
But there were some more influential figures joining in, including journalists from leading UK newspapers. Their weighty contributions to this debate tended to be of the “my cat is also a social experiment” type.
For me this kind of backlash is an example of one of the worst aspects of the British psyche. Someone tried to be clever. They weren’t, perhaps, as clever as they thought they were. It matters not if the point they were making was a good point. They were trying to be clever and here, in the UK, that kind of thing will always get you shot down.
Usually by people who wouldn’t recognise an original idea if it dribbled out of their coke-damaged nostril and landed in their breakfast one morning. Or, worse, by those who are actually more than capable of solid, rounded, interesting arguments and opinions but who don’t want to be seen being intelligent, and would rather than stick to being arch, reductive and on the unpleasant side of cynical.
It’s easy to sneer and mock. I find it a hugely unappealing character trait.
I care far less whether there are holes in the explanation offered by the originators of the fake Glitter account (such as how old the account was, whether events overtook them, etc) and more that as a result of their actions someone somewhere may have started to think about the importance of not being so gullible, asking questions, being sceptical.
The issue of keeping children safe online is important.
If you disagree, you are an idiot – or you have a vested interest in children not being kept safe.
Either way, I don’t wanna be in your gang.