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November

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Social Media Dystopia | KSI vs Logan Paul | Colin Kapaernick  | BBC Shtposting | Britbox

We'll go easy on the election chat for another week other than to say that the early signs indicate another depressing proliferation of lying, cheating and fake news. Just ask Kier Starmer or any constituent who's received a weird graph from the Lib Dems. Instead we're going to talk about social media, sport, influencers the BBC, Britbox and Colin Kapaernick. 

Brave New World of Social Media still feels dystopian

As election season kicks, in certain parts of the media bubble are abuzz with the haunting prospect of Russian interference in our wider political debate and processes.

And while we know roughly what they will do (boosting the lunatic peripheries of the debate while attempting to convince the electorate that their political system is a corrupt, rotting machine gagging for revolution) it will be more interesting to consider what kind of data every political campaign will be playing with. Namely: what your technology can tell them.

Only this week we have seen reports of a woman who has been relentlessly targeted by adverts for cots, prams and baby clothes because she didn’t mark her period tracker app and the ad tech jumped to conclusions. We have seen TikTok (the app developed in China - where every company must legally support the government in intelligence work) declared a potential ‘national security risk’ by US intelligence, after it has been fined for illegally mining the data of children, although it will still be allowed to collect user data such as IP addresses, location and information about devices.

Also, there was the sale of Fitbit to Google, extending the cynical, coercive use of people’s most personal data to their heartbeat and location. What’s left once a corporation instantaneously and constantly knows how you feel and where you are?
 
 
KSI vs Logan Paul: The internet's biggest event, but at what cost to boxing?

The upcoming ‘professional’ fight between the two divisive internet personalities is going to be a humungous piece of viral content, but it’s also another chapter in the hypercommercialised, WWE-ification of boxing.

Other notable examples are Freddie Flintoff and a whole host of rugby players receiving their licenses, the McGregor v Mayweather bout, and Tyson Fury’s recent involvement in WWE. This is Eddie Hearn’s effect on turning boxing – traditionally a working men’s sport – into a full-blown circus.

Boxing purists have been quick to criticise Logan Paul and KSI but there’s no doubt that these YouTube boxers will turn more young eyes to the sport than any boxing event since the turn of the millennium.

However, boxing is at a peculiar crossroads. The sport is in danger of pandering to the eyewatering viewing figures generated by the circus-style pre-bout build-ups and walk-on theatrics that, if anything, undermine the actual sport.

For the organisers, the attention and money are hard to pass up; as a result, the power is with the promoters. This prevailing trend could alienate its hardcore fans (and sport snobs and aesthetes alike). However, the visibility and commerciality for the sport is impossible to ignore.

The Hearns of the world don’t care about the integrity of the sport; it’s always been about hype at any cost. Logan Paul vs KSI is huge win for the YouTubers but another heavy uppercut to the jaw of the sport’s integrity.
 

Kapaernick still refuses to bend the knee to expectations

Colin Kapaernick isn’t, by all accounts, one of the all-time great American footballers, but he’s a remarkable campaigner.

It all started with his powerfully symbolic refusal to stand for the US national anthem before matches to protest institutional racism in the country: that made him a rebel.  
Then, through his release by the San Francisco 49ers and settlement with the NFL who he accused of colluding to deny him work, he became a martyr.

Onwards through his continued rigorous training regime and earnest attempts to regain employment within his field, he became an enduring symbol of quiet dignity in the face of oppression.

And now, in spending his 32nd Birthday- approaching 3 years of unemployment- feeding the homeless, he’s aiming for Sainthood.

Among his parishioners, liberals and the left, he’s an almost fairytale example of one man trying to take on a broken and corrupt system against almost insurmountable odds. He’s built a profile for himself which goes far beyond his footballing ability.

But his wider impact is still in question. Institutional racism in America is still rife, while even his impact on the meathead chauvinism inherent in Gridiron football is being questioned given that fan, player and owner attitudes remain unchanged and the league is widely perceived to have paid their way out of having to employ a player whose ideology could cause discomfort.


BBC's Shtposting Shtshow

When the BBC get it wrong, they get it really wrong. On the channel’s popular ‘Brexitcast’ podcast this week, Laura Kuenssberg offered a rather bizarre explanation of the online term ‘sh*tposting’.

This, Kuenssberg claimed, was the act of making a political advert that was designed to look bad in order to achieve maximum shares from sceptics online. Unfortunately, that definition is totally wrong.

‘Sh*tposting’ actually refers to the ruthless posting of unfunny content in order to distract from or undermine a genuine discussion online. Kuenssberg was widely derided by younger viewers on social media but the real issue is much larger than a social media faux pa. The multi-million-pound reboot of radio as BBC Sounds did little to fix the BBC’s broken relationship with young audiences. Ultimately, it takes more than a rebrand to show that you’re serious about speaking to young people: as ever, content is king.  

Is Britbox already being fitted for a Wooden Box?

Months ago, when it was first announced, we predicted that new BBC-ITV streaming service Britbox had no chance of survival: now that the streaming service has launched, is there any reason for a change of opinion?
Absolutely not.

An ITV spokesperson claimed that they have chosen British programming that will “appeal to viewers in 2019”. She is either wrong, or there will be an incredibly sparse range of shows to choose from. When it comes to historic British TV shows and what is today deemed problematic, the overlap is seemingly endless.

Will anyone really want to pay £4.99 a month to sieve through a selection of shows that Netflix, Prime, Now TV etc either didn’t want or were willing to share?

A mere fifteen years on younger viewers especially already cringe at the cartoonish racism, sexism and homophobia of Little Britain. What proportion of shows from the preceding decades are as bad, if not worse?

Britbox claims to appeal to our strong sense of Deja Vu. Like the success of the BBC and ITV collaboration, Project Kangaroo. Remember that? Thought not.
 
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Borkowski Weekly Trends: Corden x Kanye Karaoke | Fortnite Tree Stunt | People's Vote Blunder | Another Facebook F-up


The environment, Brexit, big tech: the same factors continue to sculpt the news agenda week on week. But then again if Mariah's bizarre wake-up call this morning is anything to go by, the aforementioned issues might actually be more fun than the Christmas stunts we have in store. 

CORDEN & KANYE'S CARPOOL CAR CRASH

James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke has been a monumentally successful publicity platform. However, the once beloved Smithy has often been criticised by his UK fans for swapping his Brit-humour for brownnosing anyone who is anyone in Hollywood.

This week’s ‘Airpool Karaoke’  - taking place on board a plane with Kanye and his ‘Sunday Service Choir’ – did not help, with Corden claiming that he felt “closer to God” during the experience.

There is no chance that Kanye would have agreed to do Corden’s skit if he couldn’t have done it Kanye’s way. What proceeded was an unhinged but utterly predictable 20 minutes of Kanye; ‘profound’ thoughts, bizarre syntax and, yes, some good music. But it’s easy to forget about that amid the deluge of arrogance and the erraticism.

PR-wise it’s problematic for multiple reasons beyond just being another case of Corden being cringe:
 
Firstly: they could’ve executed this ceremony of arslicken without increasing their carbon footprint even more. Getting a flight purely as the setting for a publicity stunt is decadent, bad for the environment and exacerbated by the fact that both its protagonists are already thought in some quarters to be spoilt brats.
 
Nor is this pretentious promotion of Kanye’s new album ‘Jesus is King’ really in-keeping with the spirit of a reawakening from God. However, it is consistent with Kanye’s messianic image of himself. As Kanye so gracefully said, “as humbly as I can put it, he [God] is using me to show off”. Very pious of you Kanye. And Corden didn’t even have the decency to laugh in his face.  
 
Although, in Kanye’s defence, it must be hard for him to find an alternative vehicle big enough to fit his ego.
 

 
SEEDS OF HOPE FOR INFLUENCERS & YOUTUBERS

This week saw a rare reputational triumph for the much-maligned influencer and gamer communities. Often criticised (including in these trends) as venal, cynical, corporatist and inauthentic, it was a pleasant surprise to see a fun, successful, politically savvy and socially conscious movement – TeamTrees- emerge this week when a group of YouTubers raised $6M to plant new trees – a figure which at time of writing has risen to $11.5M.
 
Unlike Kanye’s latest carbuncle, this was good for the planet, but it was also done with a sense of fun and a keen eye for stunt - with eye-catching initiatives including a ‘tree planting cannon’ and a sponsored symbolic marathon to plant trees on Fortnite.
 
Our old pal Elon Musk even got involved, the oft-arch cynic (if not outright conspiracy theorist) donating $1M to the cause.
 
A big part of the PR problems plaguing the influencer industry has been a seeming lack of social and moral purpose, but credit where it’s due: this was a good move.
 


ROCK THE (PEOPLE'S) VOTE

Over the weekend the People's Vote campaign was rocked by boardroom chaos. Roland Rudd, founder of City firm Finsbury PR, announced by email that James McGrory and Tom Baldwin, the campaign’s director and head of communications respectively, were fired. But, as sparring partner Alastair Campbell pointed out in a tweet, Rudd didn’t actually have the authority to make that decision. As Chair of Open Britain, he runs only one of People’s Vote’s five constituent groups.
 
But the coup was doomed for another reason. Rudd failed to secure the loyalty of his troops. Following the announcement Rudd was faced with an extraordinary staff revolt, with dozens reportedly refusing to turn up to work this week. Chief among the rebels were individuals that know how to spin journalists: Alastair Campbell, Peter Mandelson.
 
Powerful communications is sometimes about knowing where your weaknesses lie. Rudd overestimated his strengths and as a result has fractured his own organisation, quite possibly beyond repair.


DOES IT TOLL FOR THEE, FACEBOOK?

Since its earliest days, growth – both in terms of size and of power – has been the guiding philosophy of Facebook.
 
This is most apparent in their changing mantra. The young, punky company that vowed to ‘move fast and break things’, evolved to ‘make the world more open and connected’ and then ‘bring the world closer’. Facebook users have reached a billion in number and are still soaring.
 
But such success comes at a cost. Their mistakes shake the foundations of countries – and the faith of their consumers. After any election, the losing side will shout at them for alleged interference, and they’ll be able to make a compelling case. Such is their power that any twitch in policy, or glance at a candidate is angrily interpreted as bias refereeing by furious zealots.
 
Facebook’s obsession with growth drives their increasing need to assure their supporters of their balance. But every time they shift, they topple and the countermove has to be stronger. We’ve gone from meetings with Republican Senators, to placing staff on Democratic campaigns, to private dinners with far-right firebrand shock jocks, to publicly invoking the legacy of civil rights icons, to now publicly endorsing hate-site breitbart.com as legitimate news.
 
Facebook pitches and sways already – but as we enter the stormy seas of a Presidential election we could see it capsize. This will be the last Presidential election that Facebook enters as a titanic company. By 2024 it’ll broken by a combination of regulation, polarisation or user exodus – all driven by mistrust.
 

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