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Did Ashton Kutcher Exploit The Children Of Africa?

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While searching for other blog posts about the recent hubub over the hypothetical possibility of Oprah Keynoting BlogWorld this year, I came across another post that stunned me and brought a whole new perspective to Kutcher’s million Twitter follower quest that I hadn’t considered before.

Blogger Clement Nthambazale Nyirenda has a post accusing Kutcher of exploiting the children of Africa in order to be the first person with one million followers on Twitter.

You really need to read the entire post before commenting, but I would sincerely appreciate your comments when you have read Clement’s post as well as this one.  For now, here is an excerpt:

Ashton Kutcher, an American based actor, is trying to use the Malaria problem in Africa in his quest for personal glory.  It all started when Ashton Kutcher challenged CNN for  Twitter supremacy. As I write, the online community is abuzz with Ashton’s competition with CNN to see who can be the first to attract 1 million followers on Twitter. Ashton has vowed to donate 10,000 mosquito nets to at-risk families in Africa on World Malaria Day if he wins the race by April 25. As a result, many people on twitter are following him simply because they think that by so doing, they are helping in the fight against Malaria in Africa.

I, for one, am completely against Kutcher’s motive. Why should I follow him on twitter for him to release the nets to folks who are suffering in Africa? This guy wants to use Africa for his own fame.

After reading the post, it took a moment for everything to sink in. Did Kutcher exploit the children of Africa?

I quickly concluded it was quite the opposite and wrote a long comment on Clement’s blog. At the end of that process it brought me back to the hue and cry from the Twitterati that Kutcher’s drive to one million was a sham and against everything Social Media stood for.  That still doesn’t sit right with me. I have said before and I will say it again, I think @aplusk absolutely gets new media and certainly as well as any celebrity who has crossed over into our world.

Yes, his one million followers dwarfs one of Twitters earliest adopters and champions  Robert Scoble (82,000 followers). It makes Jason Calacanis’ drive to become King of Twitter look like childs play.

But didn’t Kutcher just prove something that many have been saying about Twitter and Social Media all along?

Didn’t Kutcher just leverage his celebrity and social media to raise awareness and money for a worthy cause?

Isn’t it very similar to what @amanda did with the amazing Twestival event, but on an entirely different scale?

Starting as one person’s idea, Twestival involved tens of thousands of people and raised over $250,000 for worthy causes.

Kutcher’s drive to a million Twitter followers started as one person’s idea and raised $300,000 with just two checks. One from him and one from Oprah Winfrey. It also involved well over a million people in the social media space and millions more in the traditional media world. The CNN coverage alone was immeasurable to Malaria No More.

The cover of their website says it all:

marlianomorescreengrab2

Some are saying celebrities’ new found fondness for social media will ruin it, but they are simply wrong. It will certainly bring a new set of problems that we will have to find ways of dealing with. There will be clueless celebs just as there are clueless businesses and other clueless people who try to use these tools the wrong way. As Beth Harte suggests, we should call them on it when they do.

But the biggest take away from all of this is that celebrities’ adoption of social media is a sign of the beginning of the beginning of new media reaching its full potential.  Adam Kmiec does an excellent job pointing out the pluses and minuses of the mainstreaming of new media much better than I can here.

Bottom line.  The change we have all been espousing for so long is finally coming. This is a good thing for all of us.

Here is the comment I left on Clement’s blog:

Wow your post may have been well intentioned Clement but you couldn’t be further from the mark.

Ashton Kutcher doesn’t need to donate 10,000 nets to Africa or $1 to anyone to raise publicity for his goal of reaching one million followers on Twitter. He could have done that without you, without the nets or anyone else.

Instead what he chose to do was use the occasion to make a very significant donation to a very worthy cause. You should be very grateful he chose a cause close to your heart instead of someone else or none at all.

Furthermore he just raised awareness of this problem to not just the one million people who followed him on Twitter, but the millions more who watched him on Oprah and all the publicity raised on CNN and every other news outlet in the world that covered this story.

This may have been the biggest publicity this cause has ever received and it is all due to Ashton Kutcher. Yes he could have given the money to buy these nets without ever mentioning it. He could have given the money anonymously. He certainly comes off as the type of guy who would do just that. But if he did that what would you have? 10,000-nets. No millions of other people now being aware of this problem and donating $5 and $10 here and there. No world wide publicity raising awareness of this issue.

What Ashton Kutcher did for the children of Africa was far greater in value than just give money; he gave you something very few people in the world could.

And what is his reward for doing so? You didn’t just look this gift horse in the mouth, you spit in his face.

I humbly suggest that you seriously rethink your position.

What’s your take?

Two people I greatly admire have weighed in on the implications of the great Twitter Race.

Jeremy Owyang’s take here.

Brian Solis may have the best post on this seismic shift yet.

Church Encourages Twitter Use During Service

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Welcome to the 21st century.  I guess when the institution that has been considered the most traditional and least technologically advanced starts to embrace modern technology like Twitter, it’s time to say it’s officially arrived.  I just caught wind of a church in North Carolina that not only doesn’t care if you text message and Tweet during the church service and sermon, they Encourage it.  Huh?

That’s right, at the Next Level Church in Charlotte, NC, they are actually encouraging members of its congregation to get those cell phones out and send Tweets all throughout the service and most importantly the sermon.  Apparently their pastor believes that it’s his responsibility to ensure that the church is using every technological advance possible to help spread their message.

According to reports:

“The congregation was urged to post minute-by-minute updates to their Twitter accounts to allow members across the room to broadcast in real time how the message was touching them…“People who didn’t get to make the service get the opportunity to see what notes I’m taking and what’s going on here in the service,” church member Robbie McLaughlin said.”

Once again this brings up an entire new question that I’m sure will be popping up more than ever before:  Where else can new social media and social networking services like Twitter be used?  It’s interesting to see it being used in previously ultra-traditional places like churches, but it makes me wonder where else Twitter might be extremely beneficial?  What about Government?  What about more real-time updating of sporting events?  What about NASA in space?  I know there have been Tweets from the rovers on Mars, but what about directly from the astronauts on the moon?

Apparently the sky, is no longer the limit.  Hold on tight, who knows what else is on the way.

Social Networking Finds Higher Calling

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Social Networking Right when you thought you knew exactly what Social Media and Social Networking was capable of, right when you thought you knew exactly what it’s future would be and that it was officially shifting towards business, something pops up that gives you a renewed hope for just what all this new technology could be capable of.  Today is one of those days.

I just caught wind of a project taking place in Cleveland, Ohio where health officials are actually using social networking sites like Facebook and other mediums that are similar to address a growing problem in the public health scene:  HIV and STD’s.  Check out the official news from Cleveland:

“The city’s health department will set up profiles on two popular gay meeting sites next week and plans to log on to Facebook later….The profiles will allow the department to communicate with other users on the sites whose real names may not be known by their sexual partners….Cleveland HIV/AIDS services director David Merriman says it’s not unusual for those who test positive for HIV or another sexually transmitted disease to say some sexual encounters were with people they knew only by a Web site screen name…Columbus Public Health began using social networking sites in a similar manner last year.”

Personally, I love seeing new technology being used in even newer ways.  It would be closed-minded to think that all of the buzz and excitement surrounding new social media, social networking and microblogging sites is limited to business and profit.  The bottom line is, a lot of good Can be done when you’ve the ability to reach so many people in one fell swoop.

With Facebook officially hitting 200 million members, the time is now to really embrace the technology and start reaching broader audiences with broader problems.  Taking advantage of this is officially job number 1.

Twitter To Threaten U.S. Trials?

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Twitter As services like Facebook and Twitter continue to dive deeper and deeper into our lives, it looks like there are some people out there that view the services as more of a threat than anyone previously believed.  The fact that they allow anyone, anywhere to get intimate and in-depth looks into someone else’s life is no secret about Twitter, it’s the reality that actually made the service so immediately popular.  Now, however, there are some slight concerns being raised, especially in the world of the U.S. Legal System.

That’s right, looks like so me people out there are a bit afraid that Twitter and Facebook, most specifically their ability to instantly and easily update everyone as to exactly what’s going on with a certain person, might be jeopardizing trials and legal events.  According to recent reports:

“The verdicts in two US trials are being appealed against because jurors made comments about them on social networking sites.  Defence lawyers in the two cases say postings by jurors on sites like Twitter and Facebook could be grounds for appeal.”

As you know, jurors are forbidden to discuss anything relating to the case anywhere outside the deliberation room.  By allowing Twitter and Facebook, they are able to interact directly with thousands and millions of people with the simple push of a few cell phone buttons.  Yikes.  The question is, how do we enable our court systems to work in the new world?  Traditionally they’ve been plagued with an inability to work with the “Wired World” and as we move further and further into new technology, new media and social networking, these problems will no doubt continue to surface.

The question is, how do we address it?  How can we ensure fair and impartial trials without taking technology completely out of the equation?  What do you think?  Sound off…

Are Traditional Magazines Unbiased?

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And are blogs inherently biased?

The answers to those two questions are no, and yes respectively. The recent Wired/Arrington dust up is just the latest in a very long series of charges and counter charges between blogs and traditional media.

I am not picking any sides in this particular story. I read TechCrunch almost daily not because I am a techy and I am certainly not a tech investor but because there is always something interesting there and TechCrunch is at the center of the tech-Blogosphere. Which is one of the important communities at BlogWorld & New Media Expo.

I Also subscribe to Wired. Along with Fast Company they are two closest traditional media outlets to the Blogosphere. Mostly in tech but they certainly touch on and report on several communities within the Blogosphere.

Back to the issue at hand. Traditional media outlets for at least as long as I can remember have charged that their biggest advantage over blogs is that they are unbiased and have ethical standards and blogs are not and do not. (Study’s have proven otherwise).

This charge has been made in every realm of traditional media, from politics, to sports, to tech, to reporting on the war in Iraq to you name the topic I guarantee you some journalist or editor in that community has written the exact same thing Betsy Schiffman wrote on her Wired blog (that’s ironic isn’t it) this Tuesday. Specifically the quote from Peter Sussman who serves on the Ethics Committee of the Society of Professional Journalists. (there can’t be any more credible source than that right?)

We asked Peter Sussman, who serves on the Ethics Committee of the Society of Professional Journalists, for his take on the situation.

“The one thing that newspapers still have over new online outlets is the brand, the name and the standards. They’ve told readers that by the mere presence of a story on the Washington Post, that it’s been through a rigorous analysis or edit and it is up to their standards. The assumption is that unless you hear otherwise, the content you see in the Post has gone through that ethical screening.”

I am sure Betsy and Peter practice ethical standards and believe what he has said and try very hard to live up to those standards but here is the rub for Betsy, Peter, and every other traditional media type who has ever uttered this mantra……

WE DON’T BELIEVE YOU!

When I say we I mean bloggers, I mean blog readers, I mean every consumer of every form of news media that has ever been written or broadcast. We simply do not believe you are without bias. Why should we?

Time and time again bias in media has been proven, and when it isn’t proven we certainly have our suspicions.

Isn’t it one of the tenets of good journalism to be skeptical?

Why then do you not understand that the same rule applies to the consumers of traditional media content?

Ever heard the old saying don’t believe everything you read?

Ever heard the Mark Twain quote “Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics?”

We have all heard the line about the “separation between Church and State” between editorial copy and ad-sales. Frankly that’s poppycock (I love it when I can figure out a way to throw poppycock into a post!). That’s why Consumer Reports the watch dog for consumers and the (allegedly) unasailable source of consumer product reviews had to quit taking advertising dollars. The moment you do, you create a conflict of interest. Mark Cuban addressed this in his keynote at BlogWorld last year.

We don’t care if the ad-sales guy brings in the money, and the journalist writes the story and the editors edit and verify their story. We all know the publishers job is to MAKE MONEY. You are not and never have been in the news business. You are in the advertising business. Every journalist who writes for you knows where his or her checks come from. That doesn’t make them bad people and I am not saying they don’t try very hard to be unbiased in their reporting. I am quite sure they do. We just don’t believe there is zero influence in your writing.

I have told this anecdote many times but for new readers here it is again. I have personally worked for more than one company that his written it’s own product reviews that have appeared in industry trade journals. Now that is about as bad as it gets but the fact is it is far more common than you might think.

But bias doesn’t start or end with advertising. We all have our inherent biases. Our political views, the industry we are in, where we live, who our family works for, the stock we own, how old we are, our gender, the type of family environment we were brought up in, our economic status and millions of other influences that shape our view of the world. Each of these things affects the way we see and cover any story. Journalists are no different. Sure there may be some superfreak out there without bias but that would be the rare exception to the rule.

Now here is where I will give journalism and journalists the credit they’re due. No doubt Journalists try to overcome their bias. Organizations like the Ethics Committee of the Society of Professional Journalists, in-house ombudsmen and editors are a fine example of those efforts.

Many bloggers could learn quite a lot about journalistic standards and would do well to try and adhere to them. However Michael Arrington and Techcrunch may be many things but anyone who is more than casual reader would have to admit that they do try to adhere to some form of journalistic standard. To Mike’s credit he does disclose which companies he invests in. There is no doubt they have broke many big stories and have offered their readers interesting and informative content.

Isn’t that what journalism is supposed to be all about?

Will Toyota Honor Their Warranty?

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This is an interesting experiment. A good friend of mine bought a new Toyota Camry in March of 2006.  A few days ago he had some car trouble and took it to the dealer. Toyota of Temecula Valley.  It sounds like his engine is blown and that the dealer is going to try to stick him with the repair bill even though he purchased the extended 100,000 mile warranty.

I advised him to start a blog and detail his experience.  He did. You can find his blog My Toyota Camry on blogspot. Please read the whole story, stay tuned and link to his blog to see if we can get Toyota to do right by him.

PC Magazine Editor Quits Over Killed Story

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Kim Zetter of Wired has the story. Long story short a new CEO comes in and doesn’t appreciate the Editor-In-Cheif writing stories that are critical of advertisers.

The blogosphere has been talking about transparency and not selling out to advertisers and maintaining integrity, etc for a very long time. As I have said many times before this is nothing new.

If any magazine or radio station let alone TV program tries to tell you that the advertisers don’t hold any sway over editorial content don’t believe it for a second.

Even in this story where now former PC World magazine Editor Harry McCracken ended up quiting over his story being killed Wired reports he was willing to compromise:

The piece, a whimsical article titled “Ten Things We Hate About Apple,” was still in draft form when Crawford killed it. McCracken said no way and walked after Crawford refused to compromise.

Don’t think advertisers effect content? think again. Anyone who ever accepts a dollar from an advertiser will feel pressure to compromise their content either internally or externally. That is just a fact. Blogs are no exception.

Does that mean advertising is bad or that anyone who runs ads in their newspaper, magazine or blog is a sellout?

Personally I don’t think so as long as you don’t cross the line. Where is the line you ask?

It’s kinda like the old saying in pornography when you see it you will know.

A great post at Ed Bott’s Windows Expertise but I have to take exception to this:

For people who aren’t in the publishing trade, it’s easy to build elaborate conspiracy theories about the role of advertisers in editorial decisions. I’ve seen enough letters and online comments to know that some readers believe that reviews and news articles in technical publications are influenced by how many ads the subject of the story agrees to buy.

I know it to be a fact Ed. Maybe not at your magazines but I know it happens every single day. It looks like it is happening right now at PC World doesn’t it?

Read the whole post as Ed makes some very good points like this one:

Ten years ago this sort of story would have appeared in a trade magazine for publishers and editors, and most readers would never have heard about it. In the online era, the story is out in a matter of hours, and it doesn’t make IDG look good.

That right before blogging a story like this would have never seen the light of day.

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Are New Media Ethics different from Old Media Ethics?

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Should a different set of rules apply to blogs than say your local newspaper or favorite magazine?

How about a trade magazine?

Josh Friedman has the latest article discussing the ethics of bloggers being paid by advertisers to post about their products in today’s Los Angeles Times. Here is the subhead from the article:

Payments by advertisers to bloggers for writing about their goods, critics say, blur the line between opinion and product placement.

Before I go on let me say getting paid to promote a product or service and not disclosing it is unethical no matter what medium you happen to be in, but is what some blogs are doing any different than the local newspaper?

I would say in most cases yes there is a difference but many times it is not a very big one. No credible newspaper would print something shilling a product without disclosing it. However they do run ads, and some ads are definitely made to look like editorial copy. They are called Advertorials. The newspaper didn’t create it or print it but they certainly know they are deceptive when they run them.

Same certainly goes for TV. Ever watched an infomercial? How about a paid program on your local radio station? Sure they have a weak disclaimer toward the end of the ad, or if it’s one of those hour long deals they will run the disclaimer a couple of times but we all know what they are trying to do. How about those paid spots that your favorite DJ or radio hosts reads for advertisers?

Do they disclose they are reading a paid advertisement? I listen to talk radio all day and I am telling you not a lot. Sure they sound like ads but not all the time. Sometimes they get pretty damn close to just sounding like your favorite talk show host just loves ACME company’s new widget.
As for trade magazines I know for a fact that product reviews in some if not many trade magazines are written by advertisers.

All of these traditional media tactics have one thing in common, they are created with the intent to mislead the reader,viewer,listener. That doesn’t make it right, I am just pointing out that traditional media has its scallywags as well.

There is another important distinction between these deceptive new media tactics and bloggers failing to disclose paid advertorials. Most bloggers condemn these tactics. Advertorials, Infomercials, and Paid Programming are accepted traditional media practices.
Everyone knows Jason Calacanis has a serious problem with PayPerPost and I am sure he has said this a hundred times but today he hits the nail on the proverbial head with this sentence:

I would have no problem with PayPerPost if they forced their bloggers to disclose that their posts were paid IN THE FIRST SENTENCE OF THE POST.

If you want to get paid to post things about products I say fine, just disclose it and you are just as credible as the morning drive DJ. Don’t disclose and you are as credible as that guy that sits on all the late night infomercials pretending to be a journalist, doctor, lawyer, etc, etc.

I hate infomercials as much as the next guy and I love the promise that new media offers us. It gives a voice to all of us that we haven’t had for a very long time. At the same time I am a realist and I understand that while some will use this new power for good, others are going to use it for evil. Where mass eyeballs and ears go, so will the deceptive advertisers.

others blogging this story:

Social Media:

Draper couldn’t be more wrong. I agree with Doc Searls, Dan Gilmor, Jason Calacanis, Jeff Jarvis, David Weinberger and others who believe that pay-per-post efforts to commercialize the blogosphere, often by stealth, can only have a deleterious effect on the open conversational nature of blogging.

Tris Hussey:

I think there is a place for sponsored posts and a mechanism where companies can openly request reviews and bloggers be compensated for the time they put into those reviews.

Dan Gillmor:

This is not a close call. To take money for touting products in a blog and not disclose it — prominently, and in context — is not ethical. No amount of thumb-sucking justifications can change that.

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