Tuesday, October 17

Questioning Ethics

If you want to shake up people's definition of ethics, go no further than the Internet.

Some of the same folks who easily chastise Rep. Mark Foley e-mails and private messages, laughed as they discovered Augusten Burroughs frequently amused himself by placing fake personal ads, and smirked when Jude Law's character pretends to be Julia Roberts and sucks in Clive Owen (Closer), are now defending married men and women seeking extramarital affairs on Craig's List personal ads.

The controversial practice, which has been around for some time, has been brought to center stage after after Michael Crook, a 28-year-old Liverpool, N.Y., man posed as 19-year-old Melissa and coaxed personal information from Kevin Murphy, who answered a personal advertisement on Craig's List. Crook then shared the information about the extramatarial affair with Murphy's wife, bosses, co-workers, several of his company's corporate accounts, and on his Website, which is dedicated to exposing Internet infidelity.

According to Abigail Goldman's story in the Las Vegas Sun, ethics experts say the stunt is immoral. Legal experts say it encroaches upon the gray territory of online liberties. Internet rights experts say it raises questions about privacy in cyberspace.

Does it? While two wrongs might not make a right, the question of the First Amendment still hangs over the entire argument. We cannot censor people from sharing any portion of a conversation, online or otherwise, if they choose to publish it. Can we?

Sure, some might argue that Crook and similar publishers are defrauding these men, but aren't they themselves attempting to defraud single women as available, only offering up their marital status when it suits them (to say nothing of what they are doing to their spouses)? Are people so naive to believe that personal ad exchanges are honest, despite years and years of articles that point out they are generally rife with fraud as those who post and respond frequently shave 10 years, 20 pounds, change jobs, and even their own names along the way? Where is the outrage in this seemingly accepted practice?

Ergo, there is only one answer here. If we are talking about ethics, they are all wrong. But if we are talking about stupidity, then those seeking online affairs retain all the honors. Maybe not today nor even tomorrow, but someone somewhere has stored all that personal informational shared over the Internet, innocently or not, possibly with the receiving party totally unaware (given that traces of pictures and e-mails remain on hard drives long after they are 'erased' and Google archives Website pages so they can be viewed long after you've taken them down).

As I've posted before, there is no such thing as a private conversation. So unless you would be proud to see what you say or do on the cover of the Wall Street Journal (Crook, I might point out, is proud of what he is doing), don't say or do it. It's about that simple. This holds to be especially true on the Internet because the information you put out there is much more permanent than anyone ever imagined, and the risk of it resurfacing is far greater than you ever considered.

Friday, October 13

Communicating Effectively With Less

Every now and again, in between all the clutter, someone publishes something that very clearly, concisely, and effectively communicates a point. This week, that distinct credit easily goes to the Times Online (UK) for publishing a stunning timeline that effectively illustrates the impact of human existence on our planet.

In what could be called a post human extinction timeline, you can quickly scan what would happen if humans ceased to exist on Earth. Whether or not you agree with the message, the communication of it brilliantly conveys its point without relying on statistics or polarized quotes, stopping you to think about environmental responsibility. For a few seconds, at the very least. Bravo.

Thursday, October 12

Manipulating The Numbers

The media seems to have embraced 655,000 as the number of deaths since Lancet published a Johns Hopkins University study of mortality in Iraq. They've settled on this number despite the fact that the researchers themselves, reflecting the inherent uncertainties in such extrapolations, said they were 95 percent certain that the real number lay somewhere between 392,979 and 942,636 deaths.

Usually insightful Daniel Davis, Guardian Unlimited, and Tim Lambert, an Australian science blogger, have also weighed in on the matter, calling any attempts to refute the report devious hack-work, especially because the administration seems content with a number far lower, about 50,000. Davis and Lambert analyze the data using their own brand of statistical posturing based on survey samplings before Davis goes on to say that “there has to be some accountability here.”

I agree. There does have to be some accountability here. And while I'll stop short of saying the researchers lied or are frauds, I will point out that their excessively broad range (1/2 million +/- 5%) speaks volumes: they have no idea. In fact, I am equally or perhaps even more accurate in saying that there were between one and 1 million deaths.

In covering the original study, the media seems to have settled on the middle ground, coming up with the 600,000 to 655,000 range. While I have no idea whether or not the number is accurate (the method, considering it's from Johns Hopkins, seems less credible than usual), I do know that some members of the media have become more sloppy at accepting statical reports as newsworthy because they seem credible (no matter what the method) and always create a buzz of controversy.

That is how this topic ties into communication. All communicators, or editors, will be tempted from time to time to publish a statistical report that will generate a buzz (they always do), but they should consider that 'buzz' publishing is getting away from the intent of reporting, which is, simply put, to get at the truth. It seems to me that publishing this one, given the method and given that people lie when taking such surveys, did little to do that.

What do I mean? Well, if you asked the same number of citizens if they had a loved one, or if someone they knew had a loved one, who died in 9/11, and applied the same statiscial theory that Davis applied in his post to defend the study, then I'd wager the death toll would exceed 1 million. Thank goodness it did not.

Wednesday, October 11

Faking The Net

Benjamin Edelman does a fine job with his blog report False and Deceptive Pay-Per-Click Ads, identifying several Internet advertising scams that range from not-so-free ringtones to discounted rates on software that can be downloaded for free. False advertising, to be sure, is a growing problem, one with roots that can be traced back to traditional print publishers, those often specifically found in the classified section of such publications (and can be easily found today).

As much as I would like to see the world as black and white as Edelman and say that the responsibility falls exclusively on Google to police its advertisers, it seems to me this subject has more shades of gray. Should Google and similar ad programs refuse or cancel known advertising scams? Absolutely. Should they be responsible for policing advertisers, placing the burden of proof on the ad program client before allowing them to advertise? Maybe, but it doesn't seem realistic. Should they be held liable for advertisers that turn out to be scammers? Probably not.

Given that we live in a world where it is sometimes difficult to discern reputable companies (that occasionally slip with an overabundance of disclaimers to mask a catchy headline) from tried-and-true scam artists, one has to wonder where responsibility begins and ends. At Copywrite, Ink., we never accept an assignment from scam artists, but I have to admit that sometimes, they're not easily identifiable. PurchasePro (which was once partnered with AOL) comes to mind. So does Enron.

We never worked with Enron, but I imagine that if it had contacted us in the beginning before being unmasked as one of the biggest scams in the history of the utility industry, we might have been excited by the prospect of working on the account. Had we done so, should we have been responsible for the fallout? I hope not. What about Firestone tires? Several public relations firms tried to turn the company's PR around (only to resign after being asked to lie). But before being asked to lie, were they unknowingly responsible?

Certainly, I believe that publishers, vendors, and even employees have a responsibility to back away from any advertisers who they know to be ethically challenged or engaged in misleading or fraudulent activities. We've backed away from several over the years and even reported one or two that were clearly violating the law. There were also a few accounts we declined not because they were engaged in anything illegal, but because we were philosophically opposed to the product (Bum Fights, for example).

In short, as much as I would like to hold a black and white view of the world, maybe a better answer is strengthening sentencing for those who purposely and willfully mislead the public rather than asking Google to police scammers by canceling their advertising contract (only to have the same people pop up with yet another brand next week). But that's just me.

Tuesday, October 10

Adding Education Experience

From software training to post-secondary education, our work in education has expanded from enrollment and recruitment to influencing public policy. One of several success stories includes the opening of the Alexander Dawson School at Rainbow Mountain in Las Vegas.

In addition to positioning the school as the best private school in the West before its first class, we succeeded in beating enrollment feasibility by 21 percent. In other words, we beat their best expectations despite offering a K-8 education almost three times the amount of the next highest private school in Nevada.

You can download our education work overview by visiting Copywrite, Ink.

For experience in other industries, download our account experience lists prior to the release of these industry specific pages. Our next scheduled portfolio overview will focus on financial.

Monday, October 9

Raising Communication Stakes

After taking a week off from posting in order to attend to some tight deadlines and to our daughter's health (she's doing great at home, btw), it was no surprise to find that the hot topic of the day is North Korea and nuclear testing.

Beyond global diplomacy and potential implications, which appear obvious to us, North Korea has challenged the world in the ultimate high stakes game of communication. From the North Korean government's perspective, it has obviously decided to wager its survival as a closed, tyrannical state against its desire to become an independent and autonamous world player, answerable to no one, much like it perceives China, Russia, and the United States as answerable to no one. Its communication in the last 24 hours was unmistakably premeditated, deviously calculated, and a grave mistake that will have consequences well beyond its borders.

Announcing the test, void of any details, was strategically designed to keep the world guessing whether North Korea is scientifically capable of producing weapon-grade nuclear armaments while stating, unequivocally, that it would no longer answer to anyone, not even the Chinese, who have until recently remained sympathetic to North Korea's direction as a communist country.

President's Bush's response was equally and purposefully vague with ample foreshadow. He said “This was confirmed this morning in conversations I had with leaders of China and South Korea, Russia and Japan. We reaffirmed our commitment to a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. And all of us agreed that the proclaimed actions taken by North Korea are unacceptable and deserve an immediate response by the United Nations Security Council."

Message: We are not alone in this, which explains why US Ambassador John Bolton presented 13 elements of a punitive resolution condemning N. Korea’s nuclear weapons test to the UN Security Council. The resolution includes inspections of all inbound and outbound cargo from North Korea.

"The North Korean regime remains one of the world's leading proliferators of missile technology, including transfers to Iran and Syria."

Message: We know Syria and Iran seem to be moving closer to what they perceive as a justified a preemptive strike against Israel. Any aid in such a strike, in particular nuclear weapons, could potentially move them to the front of the list.

"The transfer of nuclear weapons or material by North Korea to states or non-state entities would be considered a grave threat to the United States, and we would hold North Korea fully accountable for the consequences of such action. The United States remains committed to diplomacy. And we will continue to protect ourselves and our interests."

Message: We prefer to delay action at the moment, but if you continue to cross every line we have drawn, which further aggravates more pressing interests, we will aggressively pursue de-nuclearization of North Korea by any means necessary.

In the days and weeks and months ahead, it will often be the communication of the message, and not always the action, that will ultimately determine the outcome not just in North Korea, but also the rest of the world. If any US action appears weak, it will only encourage countries like Iran and Syria to step up their own nuclear proliferation programs as such rougue states continue to establish loose alliances out of paranoia, desperation, or perceived opportunity.

Why else would a South American leader choose now to suddenly have a strong opinion of Bush, if not to suggest he sees the potential for or even actively seeks common ground with the Middle East?

Blog Archive

by Richard Becker Copyright and Trademark, Copywrite, Ink. © 2021; Theme designed by Bie Blogger Template