The ‘Women Eating On the Tube Protest’ Was Weird
There’s recently been some media coverage and a lot of hoo-ha surrounding a Facebook page set up to gather pictures of women eating on the London Underground. Before it was removed from Facebook, the group—titled “Women Eating On the Tube”—provided an outlet for camera-wielding voyeurs to take a break from sneaking up-skirts and instead indulge in a far more manageable, less arrest-able form of creepiness.
The page’s founder is “filmmaker and artist” Tony Burke. He claims that taking candid iPhone shots of women mid-chew is “an observational study” and “reportage photography,” as opposed to a bunch of assholes embarrassing busy people for indulging their basic human need to feed themselves.
The page was taken down last Friday. On the day of its demise, Burke visited the Radio 4 studios to sit down with pissed-off student Lucy Brisbane McKay, who had announced a protest on the Circle line against the page, “Women Eating Wherever the Fuck They Want.” McKay was correct in what she said: The policing of women’s behavior in this way is unacceptable, weird, degrading, and pretty embarrassing for Burke. But McKay said she wanted it to be a “celebration of women eating.”
Social Media Dipshits: Stop Treating Us Like Fuckwits
Attention social media managers: Stop calling yourselves “social media snipers,” “digital Sinatras,” “digital inventionists,” “technology whisperers,” “content kings,” “brand activators,” “brand pollinators,” and “change agents” (all terms pulled from actual Twitter bios of social media “pros”).
What you are: admen and adwomen. Every update you create is a little ad for your brand; a free (FREE!) golden opportunity to be smart, funny, emotional, informative… something,anything other than moronic.
And yet, here we are again. According to my lazy research on social media “content” makers—via personal experience and my Twitter followers—almost all of these social media dipshits appear to be in their 20s. Are older, tech-averse brand and marketing managers really handing the social media keys to recent college grads just because they know some code and Photoshop? That’s just plain dumb, for reasons I have outlined below.
Anthropomorphizing your product is a popular ad concept, but creatively speaking, it’s lazy as hell. Still, it’s been very effective for many brands—M&M’s, the Scrubbing Bubbles, creepy naked Mr. Peanut, etc.
Strongbow is the world’s biggest-selling cider and, according to Wikipedia, “named after the knight Richard de Clare, later Earl of Pembroke, nicknamed ‘Strongbow’ for relying heavily on Welsh archers during campaigns in Ireland where at the time the Irish had few bows and relied on javelins.”
“Maguire” (as in “Jerry Maguire”) is an Irish surname. If only one of those Irish javelin throwers (possibly named Maguire) had had better aim, maybe there wouldn’t have been a Strongbow cider, and then I wouldn’t have been subjected to this abjectly stupid Facebook post.
Is Facebook Censoring the Syrian Opposition?
Last December, a woman from the Syrian community in Toronto reached out to me for help after a Syrian opposition Facebook page, for which she was an administrator, was expunged from the internet. She told me that Facebook had deleted the page, called Likes for Syria, in mid December, by which time it had garnered more than 80,000 “likes.” Several Syrian Canadians had organized the page shortly after the revolution in Syria began, back in 2011, and used it as a tool for posting news stories about the crisis, spreading messages of hope, and creating awareness in the Western world—something that many feel is desperately needed.
“We feel like our freedom of speech has been totally taken away,” said Faris Alshawaf, another administrator for Likes for Syria. “We have a right to talk about what is happening.” Facebook had removed the page once before but quickly republished it after administrators made an appeal. Just days later, Facebook deleted the page a second time.
Jihad Selfies: British Extremists in Syria Love Social Media
After being publicly sacked by al Qaeda leader Aymann al-Zawahiri and accidentally beheadinga fighter from one of their main allies in Syria, it’s fair to say the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS)’s PR campaign has suffered in recent weeks. So, like any half decent group of militant extremists, they obviously want to address this slip. Unfortunately, a traditional media outreach is very difficult for them, given ISIS’s policy of kidnapping journalists. So they’ve turned, like many before them, to social media.
Over the past few weeks, foreign fighters from ISIS and their subgroup the Muhajireen Brigade have been busy uploading selfies across Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, in an effort to publicize their cause and win more recruits to the Syrian jihad. They offer a bizarre and fascinating look inside Syria’s most feared and least understood militant groups.
On paper, the Muhajireen Brigade are separate to ISIS, but they’re considered by some analysts to be a front group for the larger jihadist outfit. The social media evidence seems to support this view.
This picture (above) shows British fighter Ibrahim al-Mazwagi in battle with Omar Shishani, a Georgian Chechen who formerly led the Muhajireen Brigade, and is now ISIS’s military commander in Northern Syria.
Al-Mazwagi was killed in battle in February, aged 21. This is a collage made to honor him as a martyr, along with his friend and fellow casualty, Abu Qudama.
Above are two other recent British martyrs, Choukri Ellekhlifi, 22, and Mohammed el-Araj, 23. The pair are shown here at a jihadist internet café in Atmeh, a Syrian border town that is now firmly under ISIS control.
Look through your Facebook feed and chances are you’ll find a bunch of half-truths, conspiracies, and chain letter–quality hoaxes sharing space with links to reputable news stories. In the past month, I’ve come across links to an article about Chinese people eating soup made of human fetus (a retread of an old racist rumor), a story about how former Liberian president Charles Taylor was a CIA agent (this one was actually reported by the Boston Globe, but later pretty much completely retracted), and a tale of a lesbian ex-Marine waitress who got stiffed on a tip by a homophobic couple (the couple now claims they gave her an ample tip; it’s not clear who is lying or what is going on).
With the exception of that last story, it would have been pretty easy for the sharers to do a quick Google search and determine that the OMG or WTF item they were about to post was outdated or untrue. The whole point of the internet is that you have pretty much the sum total of human knowledge sitting at your fingertips! It takes TWO SECONDS to research the thing you are thinking about sharing and find out that the Daily Currant is a shitty satire site, or that there is no“Abortionplex,” or that those “legal notices” your friends are posting on Facebook don’t do anything—yet even journalists and others who should know better fall for this crap.
—The Internet Is a Giant Lie Machine
Mexican Drug Cartels Love Social Media
Above: “Broly”, an alleged member of the Knights Templar Cartel, posing for a selfie with his handgun. (All images courtesy of Antoine Nouvet / Open Empowerment Initiative.)
Members of Mexico’s drug cartels are really starting to harness the power of the internet, using it to run positive PR campaigns, post selfies with their pistols, and hunt down targets by tracking their movements on social media.
Antoine Nouvet from the SecDev Foundation, a Canadian research organization, has been working with drug policy think-tank the Igarapé Institute on a project called the Open Empowerment Initiative. The project looks into “how cyberspace is empowering individuals and rewiring relations in Latin America” and has uncovered a wealth of information about how cartels are using the internet to their own nefarious ends.
Some gold weapons posted on a cartel member’s Facebook page.
The first point Antoine touched on was how cartels have utilized cyberspace in much the same way as a TV company’s PR department might: “They advertise their activities, they conduct public relations initiatives, and they have basically turned themselves into their own media company,” he explained. “Colombia’s cartel groups or drug traffickers in Myanmar in the 1990s were very sophisticated at public relations, but they didn’t have this massive broadcasting platform.”
Is Vahid Brown an Agent of the State, or Are Portland Anarchists on a Witch Hunt?
A link was posted on my Facebook wall a few weeks back warning that a man I knew from Reed College was “an agent of the state.”
"Vahid Brown was or is an FBI instructor at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, who has recently been attempting to integrate himself into radical and activist scenes in Portland," according to the dossier posted on the website of the Committee Against Political Repression, an anarchist group in Portland, Oregon.
As such, he is “a threat and should not be tolerated.”
Brown, however, has never worked for the FBI. He taught classes on political Islam to FBI agents at West Point while he was a scholar at the university’s Combating Terrorism Center think tank.
The post has gone viral amongst radical leftists, and has been shared more than 1,000 times on Facebook. In Portland, this amounts to a lot of people. Brown is now “anxious in public space because of this hostility,” he told me recently when I spoke to him in a series of Facebook messages, and then by phone.
A photo of Brown appears at the top of the post. In Portland, his beard and stylish attire fit in. For the Committee, this is a warning sign: “An agent of the state who has the same subcultural interests as you is still an agent of the state.”
Brown is a scholar of Islam, the author of Cracks in the Foundation: Leadership Schisms in al-Qa’ida from 1989-2006, which argues that the Iraq War “created a market for [the group’s] message.”
"I was not training law enforcement on how to do law enforcement," Brown said. "I was trying to educate these folks about these issues and directly address misconceptions and simplistic nonsense about ‘dangerous Muslims.’"
Phones Are Better Than People
You’ve likely already seen I Forgot My Phone, the short film by Charlene deGuzman that dramatizes our dependence on smartphones. It’s pulled in almost 20 million views and counting thanks to that magic social-media formula of saying something everyone pretty much agrees with: we’re all hopelessly and pathetically addicted to our devices, which makes us tragically unaware of the fragile beauty of real-life moments passing us by on gossamer butterfly wings of authenticity.
The message at the heart of the film is yet another argument that technology erodes our genuine relationships and makes us stupider and less empathetic. You’ve likely heard a variation of this before—cell phones, or the internet, or computers, or television, are making things worse. As usual, it’s wrong.
Granted, smartphone abuse is a real thing—according to one study, 72 percent of Americans said they’re within five feet of their mobile devices at all times, and 9 percent said they used their phone during sex. In another survey, 51 percent of UK residents said they experience “extreme tech anxiety” when they’re separated from their phones. And common activities like texting or using social media trigger our brains’ dopamine and opioid receptors in much the same way narcotics do, meaning you can really be “addicted” to Facebook. But while it’s certainly reasonable to argue that we should draw the line somewhere—tweeting while driving is clearly dangerous, for instance—it’s not clear where that line should be.
Consider some familiar scenarios, some of which crop up in deGuzman’s film: you’re at a concert, or a restaurant, or a sporting event, and you take your phone out to take a photo or a video or send out a Tweet or Facebook status. OH NO YOU ARE MISSING OUT ON THE WONDERFUL EXPERIENCE OF BEING WITH OTHER HUMANS!
Yeah, right—have you met most people? They’re boring as shit. More likely, you are avoiding an awkward or boring conversation by checking your phone, or you’re communicating with those you’d actually like to talk to. Before smartphones, people dealt with these situations by drinking too much, pretending to be interested in someone, or just staring at the clock until the party was over. We’re not missing much if we duck into our phones instead.