Friday, November 30

Being Left Behind: The U.S. Online

The United States may have created the Internet but Chinese youth are catching up and will outpace American youth online, according to a study released by the IAC, which is an interactive conglomerate operating more than 60 diversified brands in sectors being transformed by the Internet, and JWT, the largest advertising agency brand in the United States and the fourth-largest full-service network in the world.

Currently, China’s online population, at an estimated 137 million, is now second only to the United States, estimated to be between 165 and 201 million, according to Pew Internet & American Life Project. But it is attitude more than the numbers that distinguishes American and Chinese youth, with the latter being more expressive online.

While a large majority of youth in both countries feel dependent on digital technology, the attitude is especially pronounced in China. As many as 80 percent of Chinese respondents agreed that "Digital technology is an essential part of how I live" compared with 68 percent of Americans.

"The Chinese people seem to be way ahead of Americans in living a digital life," noted IAC Chairman and CEO Barry Diller today in Beijing, where he spoke to more than 350 Chinese students at Peking University. "More activity online means a more connected and a more evolved workforce - just what China needs as it makes its move from being the workshop of the world, to a developed economy in its own right."

"Like many other areas in comparing Americans to the energy and progress elsewhere in the world, China's speedy evolution in its use of the Internet is fast eclipsing that of the US. I think this is great for China, not so great for us," he added.

One of the most striking differences was that fewer than half of Americans (43 percent) agreed that "I often use the Internet to find the opinions of others or to share my opinions." By contrast, China's culture and political environment place less emphasis on personal views and almost three-quarters (73 percent) of Chinese respondents said they go online to share opinions.

The study pinpointed one difference as to how Chinese view anonymity online. Chinese respondents were almost twice as likely as Americans to agree that it's good to be able to express honest opinions anonymously online (79 percent vs. 42 percent) and to agree that online they are free to do and say things they would not do or say offline (73 percent vs. 32 percent).

What’s interesting to note about this is as Americans grapple with and abuse anonymity while preaching transparency and content controls, these issues may not be a global view nor even the view of the Internet’s majority in a few short years. As one pointed YouTube video reminds us, things change.

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Thursday, November 29

Parading Biegel: Creatively Naked

Lawsuits are odd things nowadays, sometimes serving as smear campaigns rather than the pursuit of justice for which they are intended. The case of Biegel vs. Denstu, as amended and made available by Ad Age, is one where it becomes very unclear which category it belongs.

Part of the reason is that the Biegel’s revisions further muddle events and allegations while placing even more aim on Toyo Shigeta, CEO of Dentsu Holdings USA as well as another senior executive at Dentsu. The new complaint even includes the web address of the now famous brothel (pictured) where it all went down.

Biegel’s revised complaint now reveals he wasn’t just motivated to stand up just because he was subjected to two years of repeated lewd and sexually harassing behavior, which included forcing him to engage prostitutes, view photographs of crotches, and get naked to “parade” in front of the accused at a Japanese bathhouse. No, Biegel was motivated because another employee was scheduled to take a business trip with Shigeta about two years later.

So Biegel confronted his employer on the presumption that this employee would also be subjected to the same humiliating and sexually degrading experience that Biegel had allegedly endured for years. This was also the time that Biegel chose to disclose that he ought to have reported the bathhouse incident (not necessarily the brothel incident) to human resources.

According to the suit, Shigeta’s attitude toward Biegel changed from positive to negative after that, with Shigeta virtually cutting off all communication between them. (Ya think?) And this is why Biegel now claims he was not only fired because of complaining about sexual harassment, but also because he is Jewish. Huh?

Is there a connection here or is this something out of pulp fiction? In any case, religious discrimination and defamation are added to the case. The latter is presumably because Dentsu denied the charges, which made Biegel look bad. Ho hum.

Meanwhile, Dentsu is standing firm in insisting that the allegations are patently false, and filed a motion to dismiss the complaint. Biegel, they say, ignored formal procedures for making grievances about sexual harassment by lodging claims more than a year after the alleged incidents took place.

Applying Ethics Against Harassment

While I can make no assumptions that any of this occurred or did not occur, I can share what might have occurred had Biegel applied ethics.

• Biegel could have warned Shigeta that he was offended immediately upon being taken to a brothel and took action to leave the brothel, especially after receiving “orders” to participate with prostitutes.

• Upon further insistence or threat, Biegel could have immediately told Shigeta that he would be reporting the incident to human resources.

• Upon further insistence or threat or inaction by human resources, Biegel could have filed a lawsuit.

Had any of this happened, there would have likely been no other occurrences either because Shigeta would have either understood the point or may have been terminated. But then again, there wouldn’t be $1 million lawsuit several years after the fact either.

As I wrote in post yesterday, fearlessness can serve people in business — being “forced” to parade naked in front of your boss would certainly qualify as the time to apply it.

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Wednesday, November 28

Searching For Courage: The Recruiting Animal

The Recruiting Animal recently wondered whether there are some psychological tests that measure courage. It seems to make sense, given that courage is frequently cited as an important trait among leaders.

UMSC General Charles C. Krulak includes it among his fourteen basic traits of effective leadership, distinguishing two forms: physical and moral. U.S. Senator John McCain cited its importance as an enforcing virtue for five other virtues common among exceptional leaders a few years ago. And Ben Dean, Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote an interesting piece to define courage as well, citing a great C.S. Lewis quote that it is “not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point."

However, before considering which tests may or may not measure courage, I can’t help but wonder if fearlessness might be the better measure for business leaders. You see, the two terms — courage and fearlessness — are not the same.

Author Dr. Thomas Hora once pointed out that courage relies on the willful resistance to fear whereas fearlessness, based on a higher understanding, is effortless. While courage can be rooted in anger; fearlessness is rooted in clarity of vision. While courageous acts can be performed by frightened people; those who are fearless remain focused on sense of purpose rather than self-concern.

In fact, I often infuse the concept of fearlessness while teaching or coaching public relations professionals, advertising copywriters, spokespeople, and politicians. It’s in my lessons, just not overtly so.

Three examples of fearlessness in communication.

• It comes up when I challenge public relations students (many of them working professionals) with ethical dilemmas such as their supervisor asking them to misrepresent information.

Most students, fearful of retaliation and damage to their careers, chose to say nothing. A few courageous students suggest reporting the incident. Usually no more than one will suggest speaking with the supervisor first, which requires fearlessness.

• It comes up when I teach advertising. While I always suggest that the first rule of advertising is that there are no rules, I always give them ten. The tenth is allowing for the freedom to fail. That’s fearlessness.

While courageous copywriters will stand by their convictions and push their ideas forward, sometimes out of fear of being wrong; fearless copywriters, those who aren't afraid to fail, keep the client in mind.

• It comes up while coaching spokespeople and politicians on surviving aggressive interviewers. The most common challenge is working past their fears — forgetting a valid point, being wrong, sounding silly, etc.

While courageous spokespeople might take on an aggressive interviewer, it won’t mask their inability to respond to tough questions. Unless they are fearless, they are likely to become defensive, aggressive, or even angry (one client once took a swing at me during a mock media interview session).

The fearless spokesperson or politician, even when they don’t know the answer, remains composed, calm, and confident because they know their message and remain poised enough to deliver.

Can we really test for courage and do we want to?

While I was unsuccessful in finding a proven psychological test this morning (though firefighters are sometimes tested for courage), I did find an article by Pat Weisner about employee interviewing techniques.

Weisner suggests the test is simple enough: place the applicant on uncomfortable ground with questions like “’I don't think you have the experience to handle this job.’ Or ‘You haven't done anything to demonstrate how you would get into the mind of our customers (or the people you might manage) because you haven't done anything to find out what I'm thinking.’”

These two questions, not surprisingly, mirror those asked by “overly aggressive” interviewers. You can catch questions that are framed up just like this on the news; these, in particular, are called needling.

While needling and other aggressive questions do not often get at the truth, they sometimes test the interviewee on their confidence in the subject matter and own sense of self worth. Given this, an aggressive mock media interview could possibly reveal a candidate’s level of fearlessness, but each would have to be customized to be effective.

To test for courage, on the other hand, you might be better off asking them to apply for Fear Factor. But even so, since fearlessness and courage can be taught, why bother? Maybe we need to teach it more; there seems to be ample fear around and about social media.

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Tuesday, November 27

Bypassing Popcorn: Purple Violets

Sometimes history happens with a whisper. Purple Violets qualifies.

Sure, there was ample buzz over the first iTunes movie premiere, enough to make it the number two downloaded Apple iTunes offering, second only to Ratatouille. Yet this Edward Burns film, though likeable, is hardly the kind of popcorn munching cult flick needed to prove the power of new media.

Simply put, most of the attention is landing on iTunes over the film because Purple Violets is hard to classify. Many have tried to tie it to the label romantic comedy, but there is not enough funny to make it a comedy and not enough conflict to make it romantic.

The truth is that it is not much more than a nicely shot film about four former college loves, now in their thirties, attempting to rekindle what might have been. The acting, directing, and cinematography all measure up; but the script lacks any real direction or punch. And therein lies the reality of this release.

When films are hard to classify for marketing purposes, they are generally prohibited from any general release beyond the Tribeca Film Festival, where Violets first debuted. So yes, Burns might have picked iTunes, but only after a lukewarm reception from traditional distributors.

iTunes Might Open Doors For Underappreciated Films

Despite the hubbub that somehow this is the first feature film to somehow bypass theaters, there are hundreds of films made every year that receive no more attention than a limited release or sometimes go straight to DVD. Apple iTunes might give these films a chance to live. I think that is a grand idea because marketability isn’t the best measure for a great film, just one that promises blockbuster revenue.

But isn’t that what consumers and critics have been complaining about? Films that are marketable but disappointing. Or writers, directors, and producers always catering to the popcorn culture and somehow losing what used to matter. Certainly, worse films have made it further up the food chain.

The Film Enjoys Secretly Talking About Itself

If there is any irony to be found, this destined to be underappreciated slice-of-life indy think piece is really talking about itself in the classic struggle of art vs. audience appeal.

Burns’ main character, Brian Callahan, played by Patrick Wilson, is the author who publishes an underappreciated slice-of-life think book after a long and successful career as a pulp fiction detective novelist. Some of the story touches on whether the general public prefers popcorn pulp over literature.

Still, his fate is better than that of Patti Petalson, played by Selma Blair, who never followed up on her successful collection of short stories in college and opted instead to partake in what for her is a passionless career in real estate. In short, it’s a good film but not for everyone.

What It Represents For New Media

While traditional reviewers enjoy taking shots at the screen size, their focus on the viewing device, download times, etc. is misguided and even ignorant. The measure of this film will not provide any evidence of success or failure of the distribution platform.

With the major networks and studios balking at iTunes for love of money, Burns has done a great thing in demonstrating someone can bankroll a film and sell it direct to the public.

So even if iTunes does not deliver much more than a break even or modest profit for Purple Violets, it’s good to see that well-made independent films can be seen someplace other than film festivals and back alley theaters. It’s a good thing and may even show some promise in putting the magic back into Hollywood.

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Monday, November 26

Accounting For Anonymity: The License To Kill

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is an international non-profit advocacy and legal organization that is dedicated to preserving free speech rights such as those guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

One of the cornerstone arguments is the right to say things online that will not be connected with our offline identities, as we may be concerned about political or economic retribution, harassment, or even threats to our lives. As someone who has long valued free speech, I agree with tempered reservation.

The reservation comes from something that is often missed in discussing anonymity: it is often abused as a license to kill. What is missed is that being anonymous demands even more authenticity, sensitivity, and responsibility than those who operate outside the realm of cloaked avatars and general deflection.

CEO John Mackey Poses As An Average Investor

A few weeks ago, Whole Foods Market Inc.'s board, overreacting to anonymous postings by its chief executive, amended the company's corporate governance to sharply restrict online activities by its officials.

The new code bars top executives and directors from posting messages about Whole Foods, its competitors, or vendors on Internet forums that aren't sponsored by the company. If there was ever a case for attempting to pander to the public and perhaps the Securities Exchange Commission during an investigation, this is it.

It was never about what was posted, but rather the deceptiveness of comments made under a fake persona. In this case, the messenger is the message.

State Investigates Political Blogger After Anonymous Tip

Chuck Muth is president and CEO of Citizen Outreach and a professional political consultant. He is well known for his conservative viewpoints, well-thought arguments, and biting commentary.

In early November, the state’s Children and Family Services (CFS), which acts as child protection services in Nevada, launched an unfounded investigation on Muth based solely on an anonymous tip, possibly to the amusement of his detractors. After reluctantly allowing the sheriff’s deputies to inspect his home and interview his children, Muth was cleared by their inspection.

Or, perhaps not. Despite passing the inspection, the CFS has informed Muth that his file would remain open unless he subjected himself and his family to further investigations. In other words, any previous inspection would not be enough.

This is no longer about the accusation, but rather the deceptiveness of the accusation and a potential agenda for revenge under supposedly sealed files. In this case, the messenger is the message.

Megan Meier Commits Suicide After MySpace 'Hoax'

Meier, a 13-year-old girl, who suffered from depression and thought she made an online friend with a boy named Josh, committed suicide over his accusations that she was cruel person, unkind to her friends, and that the world would be better off without her.

Except Josh was not Josh, but rather the mother of another girl who wanted to gain Meier’s confidence in order to know what she was saying online about her daughter. To date, the woman who created the fake “Josh” profile has not been charged with a crime. The entire story has sparked an online maelstrom of cyber vigilante justice.

This is no longer about protective parenting, but rather the deceptiveness of hateful intent under the fake persona “Josh.” In this case, the messenger is the message.

The Future Of Anonymity

In the Meier story, Wired goes on to point to the work of Daniel Solove, professor of law at George Washington University and author of The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor and Privacy on the Internet.

The work is important, because as we see with Muth’s story, the danger of unrestrained anonymity remains a license to kill and is not confined to the Internet. It has become the new weapon of choice among con men, vengeful accusers, and hateful posers in a world where everyone is a public figure with the burden of proof landing squarely on those accused, regardless of the masked messengers.

We see it too often, accompanied by unjust justifications. The argument made for Mackey is that if anyone was duped into making decisions based on the financial message boards he posted upon, they deserve no less. The argument against Muth is he ought to have nothing to hide from the authorities. And even as the Meier story, which continues to spiral out of control, is being twisted into the idea that the victim got what she deserved. We need an adjustment.

You see, sometimes in our diligence to preserve some rights, we neglect others. And the most neglected today seems to be found within the Sixth Amendment, which includes our right to be …informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against us …

While this may seem to be an argument for complete transparency, living in glass houses is not a remedy as we’ve given up enough civil liberties in the private and public sectors. If there is any solution, the real remedy begins with shedding our apparent ignorance that the credibility of the anonymous posters, posers, and tips extends beyond a well-reasoned and authentic argument.

Simply put, allowing for anonymity preserves one freedom; whereas placing additional burden on the validity of anonymous accusations will preserve another. It’s something to think about.

Freedom was not born out of emotional polarity, but rather well balanced reason. And until those who use anonymity for selfish rather than selfless pursuits are brought to justice for bearing false witness against their neighbors, we are all at risk to become their victims. Or equally disheartening, we will lose our own right to privacy when it matters most.

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Saturday, November 24

Coming Soon:







































*This post is brought to you by the 47 percent of media, advertising, and entertainment executives who believe writers should “pick up their pencils and get back to work.”

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