I was very pleased to speak at the Club of Venice Plenary to discuss a topic that especially in the modern times of post-truth, false news and high polarization of the institutional and political debate in Europe, is of the utmost importance for communicators, analysts and all those involved in making laws that regulate and protect the information market and the veracity of what billions of people see every day by scrolling their thumb on their phones.
Disinformation is not a new issue but it is certainly an issue that has assumed a new amplitude with the advent of social networks that share information at an unprecedented pace. The issue of disinformation is not merely confined to analyzing the way social networks work. It relates to a discussion that affects how we perceive society and the future of democracy.
Disinformation is a cause of public harm, a threat to democratic policy making and a danger for citizens’ health, security and their environment. It erodes trust in institutions, and it hampers the ability of citizens to take informed decisions. It has polarized most political debates, deepened tensions in society, undermined electoral systems, and has a wider impact on European security that we may tend to think. It impairs freedom of opinion and expression, which is a key principle enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.
Unfortunately, these are indeed times where conspiracy theories ones confined to the fringe, are going mainstream. It is an era where evidential argument seems to be ending and scientific consensus is dismissed. It is an era where nothing generates more engagement than lies, fear and outrage,
A recent Oxford University study found at least 70 countries have launched disinformation campaigns and despite increased efforts by internet platforms to combat disinformation, the use of false news dissemination by governments around the world is growing, We must firstly acknowledge that globally the biggest multipliers of disinformation are mostly governments, mostly not democratic or not accountable legally nor politically for pursuing such society-controlling actions. They either spread disinformation to discredit political opponents or to interfere in foreign affairs and this is concerning for all European elections.
Such online disinformation campaigns can no longer be understood to be the work of “lone hackers, or individual activists, or teenagers in the basement doing things for clickbait.” There is a new professionalism to the activity, with formal organizations that use very powerful and well organized networks to carry out these activities. This cannot be underestimated anymore.
On the other hand, we must keep in mind that access to social media is an actual support for modern day democracy. Any move by authorities to restrict access to, censor or block social media sites should be recognized as an infringement on freedom of speech and our right to information.
The protests in Maidan Square, all the protest movements in Iran’s recent history the current manifestations in Hong Kong have used technology to stay ahead of the authorities and circumvent state-controlled media. Freedom of speech and the right to protest are key elements of democracy and must be protected in order to foster an equal and fair society.
Let us look at this sentence: “In a democracy, I believe people should be able to see for themselves what politicians who they may or may not vote for are saying so they can judge your character for themselves,” Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg is doubling down on his company’s decision to not take down political ads that contain false information. This statement summarizes the core of the whole debate. We cannot have a debate about disinformation without look into this. It is a matter of deontological development of the profession of all political and institutional communicators.
Where do we draw the line? Do we control the media to prevent possible disinformation, ergo somehow allowing government decides what’s true or false or do we let anybody make their decision according to what they see, risking conspiracy theories to take over society? Apart from this existential philosophical debate, what can do done by governments and institutions?
FOSTER COOPERATION BETWEEN TECH COMPANIES AND GOVERNMENTS
As an objective analyst of social platforms and trends around Europe, and as one of the people that almost ten years ago shaped and initiated the way the European Commission monitors social networks, I would like to say that we need to rebalance the narrative on disinformation and tech companies. Contrarily to what is often said, tech companies do not have the interest in spreading misinformation and they do have an interest in cooperating with international organizations and governments.
Fighting disinformation has to be a coordinated effort involving all relevant actors, from institutions to social platforms, from news media to consumers’ associations.
From the side of the institutions, two things can be done:
Increase the technological knowledge of policy makers. There is still an important gap between the institutions’ knowledge of how social media work and the knowledge needed to effectively legislate to regulate the spectrum of action of tech and media companies.
We must not fall into the tempting arms of “fashionable hating” just because it may benefit our image. Many celebrities, including prominent European and American politicians are using Facebook as a scapegoat for their own inability to address the public, labeling it as some sort “disinformation-for-profit machine.” Simply resorting to accusations, that paradoxically are often intended to get likes, views or engagement on the very platforms that are criticized, solves no issues.
What can internet companies do?
If they really want to make a difference, they should hire more monitor and work with anti-disinformation organizations, purge lies and conspiracies from their platforms.
Secondly, they should abide by standards of practice like tv, radio and newspapers do. But this needs to be enforced by institutions and still today more legislative work is needed.
In every industry, a company is liable when their product is defective. In every industry you can be sued for the harm they cause. Government can push to have social networks accountable when this happens, the power is in their hand.
INVEST IN REBUTTAL AND FACT-CHECKING
I feel that today the information vs disinformation battle is not about being smarter but being bigger. The European Commission has done a lot over the past few years and colleagues in the communication departments must continue their work to ensure that communication and monitoring are tier-one priorities rather than something that happens just after policy.
If we want social networks that grow in line with European values, we need European champions in technology.
There needs to be a European Silicon valley, not necessarily one geographic location, it can be even a digital space, where companies can grow and express their full potential with European brains, instead of let them go to Southern California or China. We are losing innovation attractiveness (the current state of artificial intelligence draws a gloomy picture in this regard) and not nurturing the possibilities we may have in technology altogether to have a real European Facebook, Google, Weibo, Whatsapp or Twitter. The only great exception is Swedish-made Spotify.
As long as we don’t have solid competitors to these information holding giants, built in a European environment, we will always be at the mercy of companies that are not built upon European values and will not be carrier and standard bearers for these values.
Children are taught to regurgitate what others tell them and to rely on digital assistants to curate the world rather than learn to navigate the informational landscape on their own. Schools no longer teach source triangulation, conflict arbitration, separating fact from opinion or even the basic concept of verification and validation. We have stopped teaching society how to think about information, leaving citizens adrift in the digital wilderness.
While technical literacy is a powerful and important skill, it is not the same as information literacy and will not help in the war against “fake news.” To truly solve the issue of disinformation we must blend technological assistance with teaching our citizens to be literate consumers of the world around them.
The next 12 months the role of social media could be determinant: British people will go to the polls soon, while online conspiracists promote the theory of great replacements. Americans will vote for president, while trolls and bots perpetuate the lies of a Hispanic invasion. After years of YouTube videos calling climate change a hoax, the US is on track to withdraw from the Paris accords. Disinformation already highly affects policy-making, and let me add, it affects it in the worst possible way. A sewer of bigotry and conspiracy theories that threaten our democracy and our planet can’t possibly be what the creators of the internet had in mind.
Today’s grand challenge of combating “fake news” requires a very human solution. It requires teaching society the basics of information literacy and how to think about the information they consume. It requires navigating the existential contradictions of today’s social media platforms obsessed with velocity and virality against verification and validation.
The only way to truly begin to combat the spread of digital falsehoods is to understand that they represent a societal rather than a technological issue and to return to the early days of the web when institutions, governments and schools taught and encouraged to question what they read online instead of taking it for granted.
This is a serious danger and something that we communicators, government officials, representatives of global organizations have the chance today to reverse. Let us not miss that chance.
Until not so long ago, Facebook was still the overall place where everybody could communicate to multiple audiences through a very powerful targeting system. Over the past few months though, the power of pages dropped significantly for a few reasons: the Facebook algorithm is going back to its original model where profiles (actual people) have a higher priority in timelines versus pages. Secondly, people, especially younger people, are moving away from Facebook and moving to Instagram, even though controversially, Facebook’s user basis has just constantly grown somehow 🤔.
For a politician the challenge is then “Where do you talk about policy”?
On Instagram? No. Instagram is a place where users don’t expect policy-related content. Certainly, it is a place to increase your brand overall but not to discuss policy.
Snapchat? Don’t even go there.
Linkedin? Sure, but not many voters are there and political content doesn’t score high on timelines.
Twitter? Sure, but not in depth.
Blog? Sure, but people still hardly consume content directly on Medium or WordPress unless they are shared on other social networks.
Pretty much, the solution is “volume”. The maximization of volume you can reach on as many social networks as possible through one or a set of political events, debates or similar activities. Let me explain.
What do politicians do mostly? They give speeches, they attend debates, they go on TV or radio. Let’s say you are giving a 10 minutes speech.
Are there capacities to launch this speech live on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Instagram? If so, you already have four active platforms and related pieces of content.
It’s not live? Get the video file. With that you can publish the full speech on Facebook, Twitter, IGTV, Linkedin and YouTube. Plus you can cut out 2 or 3 shorter video bits, between 20 and 60 seconds, that can reposted as Facebook posts, Facebook stories, tweets, Insta stories, Linkedin posts and snaps. These video bits can be turned into visual quotes (best quality possible of the background photo) which can be published in al the above-mentioned places and through different times (not necessarily all at once). The video file can uploaded directly as a podcast on whatever platform you like be it Soundcloud, Anchor, Streaker or whatever. The podcast can then be reshared later on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin.
Got photos from the event? Do everything you did with the video. Got the speech text? Publish it as a Facebook note, a blog on Medium, an article on Linkedin. Furthermore, how about a summary of the event? Maybe two or three paragraphs about what happened, who was there and the goal of the occasion.
Were other politicians or celebrities there? Ask for collabs. Take a photo with them, share them, tag them and ask to do the same. Like their posts and comment on them with a thank you message or do a snap video asking them a question and post it cross-platform.
Sounds like a lot of work, right? But in a few lines I have showed you how you can create basically over 50 pieces of content off just one event. Do that daily and see how much volume you can create. This is where an ambitious communicator needs to go. Less curation, more volume. Execute, execute and execute daily. This is the recipe for seriously growing a digital brand today in politics. There is no shortcut.
I believe in the power of good ideas but in the digital communication battle field today I would not sacrifice volume accuracy or daily massive execution over one potentially excellent idea.
This statement reflects on a problem that communicators advocating in favour of the European union have to face right now. I’m not referring in particular to communication professionals working for the institutions, but mainly to those who believe in the European project and work in communication, in Brussels and beyond.
I fully agree with President Juncker’s statement: we are not proud enough of what we have achieved. On the other side though, I see lack of courage when it comes to showing this feeling of pride and to counterattack populist arguments, fake news and groundless political campaigns aimed at destroying or undermining one of the greatest political projects in human history.
This, in my own experience, brings up to the surface a couple of issues:
Bubbles (not only the EURObubble) are too self-complacent. I define bubbles as cities or areas of cities that gather professionals working in the same field. Bubbles are echochambers where people have the same mindset (not necessarily they just think alike), which makes it hard for them to see what the world outside that sphere think.
We are losing the communication battle with citizens outside of big cities, and still, we are not realizing the power we have in our hand to stand our ground and defend the European ideals now, when it matters most.
Self-complacency makes you a softy. Instead of fighting back, as President Juncker does and proposes, we get scared. I believe this is the time to stand our ground and use our skills, our arguments our knowledge to advocate for the benefits, the goodness and the founding principle of the Union. What the EU has achieved is tangible and it cannot be taken for granted.
The Social Media Team in the European Commission are applying these principles well. You can go on their Facebook page or Twitter account and see how they rebut wrong arguments, fake news or questionnable data. My call if for all those communicators who believe in EU unity to do the same on their personal accounts and not to shy away from populist digital campaigning. It’s not easy, I know. But we have the chance to act and make our contribution to a great cause. Let’s make our skills count.
Managing a big social media campaign or event is very similar to preparing and managing a sport team. In my experience in sports and professional communication, it is impressive to notice how many similarities come up within these two different playing fields. I disagree with this article and here is why.
Whether you will be curating national elections, the Eurovision song contest or the next World Cup, you need to prepare well in advance. Whether you are managing a team or a community, you can never consider your job as “done.” A community is never done. It is built, maintained and bred. Exactly like a sports team that finishes a league then starts another one and so on and so forth.
The “pre-season” is all about training and getting ready, getting fit and understanding your goals and potentials. No matter what, the better prepared you are, the better your performance is going to be. Even if things take an unexpected turn, your preparation will make a difference in how you play the game. You can either train for your success or complain for your failure. That’s all up to you as a coach or as a communication manager.
The tough part of analyzing your goals is to understand where you need to stop dreaming. Don’t take this as an obstacle but take it as realistic management. Any team knows at the start of a season whether they are fighting for the title or to avoid relegation. Understanding that, means understanding your budget, your means, your players, your competition. This “reality check” is necessary to help you better manage your resources: Are you prone to attack or to defend? Are you stronger on visual content and SEO or rather copyright and public relations? Understand your strengths and weaknesses objectively and use them to make the best our of your long-term goals.
A common mistake I see an sports at an amateur level is to start a league without proper athletic preparation. The same things applies to campaigners who focus too much on the first quarter of activity and end up with no content after a few months. Nothing kills your community more than scattered content. No preparation is equal to branding suicide.
Things are not always as planned. That’s why campaign management is pretty much like a game or a race. There are things you can control (your training, your sleep, your nutrition, your tactics) and other you can’t (your competitors, the weather, the judges or referees). Having said that, don’t be afraid to fail. You can make mistakes in monitoring, reporting and assessing your strategy.
The important thing for your sustainable institutional communication is not to ever make mistakes, it’s impossible. It is about how you react when things don’t go the way you expected. Your ability to get hit and keep moving forward. We can all make mistakes but it is through such acknowledgement that we can work together and build a more solid and effective communication strategy as campaigners.
Reporting is not the end of your task. It’s actually the beginning of your next goal. The insight you have got about your physical performance and the performance of your team is the starting point of your next competition, not the end of your current effort. Reporting and making a reality check on where you are physically is the only way to improve ahead of your next challenges. The same way, when you run a communication project, it is essential to keep learning about the influencers in your topic, about the demographics of your conversations and about the actual reach and impact of your work. At times, it is better ti take a step back and see things from a distance instead of keep going an narrowing our prospects. This will help you refine your strategy for next big things to come.
Network creation should be one of your goals. A network where you, as an institution or a business, are identified as a reliable and important source of information and expertise is a an expression of success. This type of image and brand takes years sometimes but the benefit of maintaining a solid positive aura, whether you are a captain, a coach or communication expert, are greater than you may think. In the era of continuous digitization of relationships and interactions, it is the hand shake, the speech or the informal coffee that make a difference in brand building. Hardly you will be seen as a mentor if lacking this very specific, and ever more important skill.
My dad is one of the most IT illiterate people I know. Probably he is the worst just after my mom, who (I swear) still owns a Nokia 1112 and hasn’t learned yet how to read texts. He has always been a true man of action, spending his whole life working in the constructions business all over the world and working hard every day. He is one of those guys that wakes up at 5AM to work….on a Sunday.
A few months ago, he got interested in using LinkedIn and in how to keep in touch with his former colleagues and current working partners. At the age of 69, I found this very admirable so I gave him a crash course on the social network. The usual stuff: how to connect, how to comment, what kind of content should be shared, which kind of language should be used and so and so forth.
With my pleasure and utter surprise, a few weeks later I noticed how he was probably the most engaged user in my over 4000-connections network, and he certainly was the most passionate user. Contrarily to most people on LinkedIn, he gives honest, spontaneous and personal comments about his field of work. He doesn’t try to (over)sell himself his brand, his expertise. He just says what he thinks. This made me think that this is how all of us used to be on social media before we started being more concerned with personal branding. We would just say things and explore opinions, trends and reactions. Now we continuously sell ourselves, our image and our brand. We kind of become our own brand.
In my work I often bump into people saying “It’s too late to change” or “I’m not cut out for communication and social media.” My dad gives the example that all it takes is the will and desire to learn anything. Everything can be taught and everything can learned at all ages. Go on dad! You’re the man!
@marcoRecorder Twitter is in stalemate. Not only financially, not only structurally, not only in terms of growth. Most crucially, Twitter is facing an identity crisis, meaning that CEO Jack Dorsey and its entourage don’t know who they are anymore, and so don’t the 320 million current Twitter active users. Users are bound to the Twitter ship which has already hit a huge iceberg but could manage to save (al least) some of its fleet.
It’s like when you tell somebody a secret about your crush or that embarrassing moment at your best friend’s stag party. You shared a secret and you think it won’t spread. And you know what? Most of the time it does. And the same is on Twitter. Even if you have a few followers and never think what you say will fly and be seen by loads of people. The infamous story of Justine Sacco can teach you otherwise.
John says “I’ve been aware for a long time that something that is normal for me – standing up and speaking in public to a crowd of 15, 150 or even 1500 people – is not at all normal for the vast majority of the population.” This is as simple as it gets. Not everybody is naturally prone nor interested in public speaking (because that’s what Twitter is). I now find zillions of social media experts that on a daily basis advocate that Twitter needs to go mainstream to survive…but does it actually?
Survival doesn’t depend exclusively on users’ pool and growth and frankly a “more mainstream Twitter” will simply not be Twitter anymore. In a previous article, I asked whether Instagram should (or not) maintain their original engagement model, that still keeps it unique (the upload being only available via mobile and the actual absence of proper third party apps). Following on to that, I am asking you “Should Twitter maintain its original model?”
Twitter has three main problems:
Lack of identity: Dorsey and co. need to figure out what they want Twitter to be, in order to also stop this media avalanche that doesn’t seem to get a brake.
Content saturation: There is simply too much stuff published. People start thinking there is no added value in posting since they have to struggle for a slice of attention of a cake that got way to big, too soon and with too many ingredients. This is atcually where the real Community Manager steps in and builds networks that go over mere the publication of content and move towards actual community building (which can no longer exclusively rely on online relations but needs to create a bridge between digital and traditional networking)
It needs an anti-spam policy: Contrarily to Instagram, there are thousands of Twitter management apps out there. Some are helpful in facilitating community management while others just facilitate spamming. They need a clean up.
If Twitter managed to create a clear cut dichotomy between content creation and content consumption they would certainly be more appealing to wider audience. This can only happen if they adjust the three points I mentioned above.
What is your take? Where should Twitter go? Should they resist, adapt or should Dorsey buy himself out and start something new. Two years ago twitter value was estimated at $45 billion. Now it’s about $10 billion. Maybe Dorsey lost his train ticket on the sales central station.
Why do I say unexpectedly? Because, it is a very specific project which requires a lot of research behind the scenes. But hey, it was a very successful project both in terms of numbers and innovation and a totally disruptive communication idea for a European Union institution.
As flattering as this was, being interviewed by students on the work I do has been incredibly enlightening. I got literally “therapized” by one of these students who I recently met. Apart from being absolutely sure that this girl will go places, I was utterly impressed with her level of attention to details, analysis and the ability of choosing the very right questions.
Finding out that someone has read each and every post you wrote (and I mean this literally) puts you under pressure.
“So I noticed your strategy changed between 2013 and 2014 and I could definitely notice a different hand writing new content around October of that year…” Gulp…
“Also why in a number of Facebook comments I saw no reactions while I saw firms responses on other issues…” Double gulp…
“Yes, I have been following you on social media, trust me I do my homework…” Triple gulp
It was something in between an interview and a parliamentary hearing, especially when you are asked to justify things you haven’t actually paid much attention to.
Whenever you get an external view on your work you capture some things you normally wouldn’t in your own mindset. Or perhaps you wouldn’t have the courage to admit to yourself. I have recently experienced some big changes and I see every day how this affects my work, my thoughts and my life. We all need, every now and then, to change our mindset and do something out of the ordinary or we end up getting stuck in a rut and kill our creativity. Flexibility and the desire to create beautiful things is the bread and butter of what we do and it is very hard to keep this desire alive when things get “too comfy.” Stability can be your worst enemy if it doesn’t bring new challenges.
We have got to be open to criticism and think that not all we do is perfect and accept good advice from those who demonstrate, with their actions, that they deserve our attention and professional respect.
To cut a long story short, do get a student to write about your work. It’ll step up your game. Guaranteed
The “Euromediterraneo” is one of the most prestigious prizes in Italy in the realm of public communication at the national level. The European Union has been awarded in the 2015 edition titled “Next Europe, Next Med, Next Communication Tools” because the scientific debate has been recognised as one of the most important content of Expo Milano 2015.
“Since the beginning of this Expo – said David Wilkinson, Commissioner General for the EU Participation at Expo – the promotion of the European Union policies has been a real challenge. We have counted mostly on our scientific contents, trying to encourage a concrete discussion around the scientific community. It is an honour for us to receive such award. Our commitment has been recognized. The scientific committee is now working to collect all the information and considerations gathered throughout the duration of Expo. Next 15 October our Steering Committee will present some recommendations to the European Union institutions”.
My personal award for Best Communication at Expo 2015 Milano goes to theRussian Pavilion
Why? Three words:
The communication team of the Russian pavilion is doing an outstanding job in promoting their activities, their brand and encourage people to visit them. Considering their followership and their visitors’ count, I guess their communication is totally working. Apart from the simple investment in communication outreach, their efforts in branding their presence at Expo displays some pretty unique features that definetely make them stand out from the crowd. This happens in an enviroment where already thousands of very capable communication professionals have gathered. Ergo, I take my hat off in front of this team’s terrific effort and results.
Being innovative means being either unique or the first to do something. The Russian pavilion have done that with Russia Expo 2015 TV. which is a pretty awesome and effective idea. Often conducted by Masha, their TV is very interactive. It is not just broadcasting the activities of the pavilion but it engages with visitors, guests, VIPs and, most importantly with many other Expo stakeholders (Expo organizers, other pavilions and partners). This product does requires a bit of effort, a dedicated audiovisual expert… and a lot of personal touch but overall it is an absolutely great channel and the return on investment is pretty interesting. Keep it up!
The quality of their images is always great and artistic. I think they have the best Instagram account at Expo… (after the one of the European Union pavilion :)))))))) Their photographer is absolutely outstanding both at getting natural reactions and poses from the visitors but also in creating more arty and appealing images of their pavilion…and especially their cute and beautiful mascotte Mishka
Always “sul pezzo” no matter what. You tag them – they react. You mention them – they react. You think of them – they think you back 🙂 This way of working on community management takes great dedication, but this seems not to have discouraged their super engaging, fun and informal attitude. For me, they are the best comms team and it’s beautiful to see it’s a team of only women. A true example of women in management. Keep up the good work! Apart from their digital work, their communication staff organizes lots of networking event in their beautiful terrace, which certainly help bridging digital with traditional networking activities.
Today we are officially at half Expo. After visiting it all, I decided to award my personal favourite efforts in five different categories:
Best Visitor’s Experience
Every week I will be awarding one pavilion for being the best in each category. I look forward to hearing your comments on my choice and exchange opinions on this wonderful event. Stay tuned!
My personal award for Best Visitor’s experience at Expo 2015 Milano goes to the Kazakhstan pavilion
With their theme “The Land of Opportunities” the fantastic colleagues of this stunning pavilion are doing a terrific job both in promoting the young and vibrant society of their country and to promote Expo 2017 Astana. The professionalism of their staff, the cure and attention for details, the neatness of every single inch of this experience makes it an absolute “must do and must see” of Expo Milano. It is a compact museum that brings together science, art, history, and culture to illustrate the country’s wealth and the Kazakh identity.
Already from the start with their breathtaking sand-drawing show, visitors get a hint that something great is coming up. In the first hall, an artist explains the country’s long history, creating images using colored sand.
Next is a hall covering six topics: agronomic expertise; the country’s natural resources, its use of water; new sustainable agricultural techniques; and, aquaculture, or aqua farming.
Just an idea of what can be seen in the Kazakhstan pavilion: there’s an aquarium with sturgeon from the Caspian Sea, from which caviar comes, of course. There’s also the chance to taste fermented mare’s milk, to consider the potential of flying drones, and admire a display explaining the history of apples, which all derive from the ancient Kazakh variety. Another unexpected delight: a device that wafts the delightful fragrance of wild tulips from Kazakhstan, these too being the progenitors of all our modern varieties.
The displays in the Kazakhstan Pavilion conclude with the 3D cinema, which is fitted out with seats that move with the on-screen action. Wearing special glasses, visitors will watch animated videos on the natural wonders of Kazakhstan, as well as its economic prowess. A country enjoying rapid economic growth, Kazakhstan will, in 2017, host EXPO-2017, which will focus on the theme: Future Energy.
Leaving the exhibition, visitors can directly enter the Kazakh restaurant and sample the country’s specialties in an elegant and welcoming setting.Follow them on social media, they are doing amazing stuff! Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. I can’t wait to see (and possbly be at) Astana 2017!