About That Fleshlight 9/11 Tweet
Today, on the thirteenth anniversary of the time two planes flew into the World Trade Center and set in motion a series of events that have led to uncountable cases of torture, death, and oppression, we are talking about brands. Specifically, we are talking about brands that have decided to commemorate 9/11 through social media. Even more specifically, we are talking about a single tweet from Fleshlight, a company that makes fake vaginas for men to ejaculate into for pleasure:
The Fleshlight tweet has been circulated far and wide on websites because putting “Fleshlight” and “9/11” in a headline is Facebook traffic GOLD, baby, and also because it is pretty funny and gross and awful that companies are taking a few seconds to metaphorically bow their metaphorical heads and go: See guys, we feel sad about the sad thing too. Here is a picture of a flag!
We do this every year. September 11 rolls around and people feel the need to acknowledge it, because it remains this shadow looming over everything. There are the streets named after 9/11 victims and the fading memorials painted on walls; there are the stories about young children who lost parents in the attacks; there’s also the matter of US foreign policy, which is still centered around getting the bad guys responsible in the Middle East. The event seems monumental and impossible to understand—this infuriating injustice that has spawned lots of other injustices. Just thinking about it for too long makes you feel angry and sick. It sucks all the irony out of the room, and you get a twinge of guilt or transgression when you joke about it.
Dumping a Bucket of Ice on Your Head Does Not Make You a Philanthropist
Unless you lack access to the internet, you’ve certainly seen the viral onslaught of Ice Bucket Challenge videos in the past few weeks. The idea is to dump a bucket of ice water over your head and “nominate” others to do the same, as a way of promoting awareness about ALS (a.k.a. Lou Gehrig’s disease). If you don’t accept the challenge, you have to donate $100 to an ALS association of your choice. It’s like a game of Would-You-Rather involving the entire internet where, appallingly, most Americans would rather dump ice water on their head than donate to charity.
There are a lot of things wrong with the Ice Bucket Challenge, but most the annoying is that it’s basically narcissism masked as altruism. By the time the summer heat cools off and ice water no longer feels refreshing, people will have completely forgotten about ALS. It’s trendy to pretend that we care, but eventually, those trends fade away.
This is the crux of millennial “hashtag activism,” where instead of actually doing something, you can just pretend like you’re doing something by posting things all over your Facebook. Like the Ice Bucket Challenge, good causes end up being a collective of social media naval gazing. We reflected on our favorite social-movements-gone-viral and found out what happened to them after the fell off our Twitter feeds. Because, yes, social problems continue even after you stop hashtagging them.
Before hashtags even existed, there were still ways to obnoxiously flaunt a social cause that you had no real connection to. Remember Livestrong bracelets? Those rubbery yellow bracelets were the brainchild of Lance Armstrong, who sold them through the Livestrong Foundation to raise money and spread awareness about cancer. Everyone from Lindsay Lohan to Johny Kerry sported one on their wrist; wearing them signified that you were both sensitive and stylish.
At least the dollar you spent on the stupid-but-trendy bracelet went toward funding cancer research via the Livestrong Foundation. Or at least, so you thought. In actuality, the Livestrong Foundation started phasing out its cancer research in 2005, and stopped accepting research proposals altogether just a few years later. Over 80 million of the bracelets have been sold. Where the hell did all of that money go?
The world was more than a little shook-up when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked Haiti, burying at least 200,000 people and destroying much of the country’s infrastructure. #Haiti became thesecond-largest trending topic on Twitter that week, and was the subject of at least 15 percent of tweeted links in the week afterward. Remarkably, many of those links directed people to donation sites. Even the Red Cross mobilized on Twitter, encouraging people to send donations and spread the word about #HaitiRelief.
Social media may have actually done Haiti a solid, helping to raise $8 million in relief funds. But, like all things on the internet, they lose their luster and their urgency, and we forget about them. It’s been four years since the Haiti earthquake and although those initial donations made a huge impact in rebuilding the rumble of Port-au-Prince, there are still at least 150,000 Haitians living in the plywood shelters in relief camps. Earlier this year, NPR reported that many of these people are living without water, electricity, or light. Why isn’t anyone tweeting about that? Because #Haiti is so four years ago.
This Week in Teens: Are America’s Teenagers Setting Themselves on Fire?
Teens are America’s greatest natural resource. They’re full of new ideas, smarter than ever, and not yet racked with cynicism and guilt. Some of the best things we’ve got—rock ‘n’ roll, energy drinks, hickeys—wouldn’t exist today were it not for teen demand. Not to mention that teens are sustainable; left unchecked, they’ll create more teens just over a dozen years. And yet, to reference a perennial college freshman favorite, the teens they are a-changin’.
The global recession hit those on the low end of the socioeconomic spectrum the hardest. Part time employment and summer jobs are now harder to come by. Consequently, teen purchasing power is on the decline. Plus, teens are good at streaming things for free, and Macklemore made them think used clothes are funny, so they have less incentive to buy new things. At this point, it’s baby boomers who have the real discretionary income. As marketers catch up to this shift, the prized demographic will become those over 55. Our nation’s youth will be forced to adapt to their ever-evolving circumstances. Will teenage ingenuity emphasize their continued relevance? Or will our younger siblings collapse into a messy room of hormones, broken curfews, and not-yet-illegal drugs? It is with this background in mind that we launch a new column: This Week in Teens.
Talking heads are going nuts over the Fire Challenge. Photo via YouTube
-If there’s one thing teens love, it’s trends. And if there’s one thing local news stations love, it’s scaring people who think they might come into contact with teenagers (this is easy to do as teens are inherently terrifying). Combining these two passions is this week’s top news story: Teens are taking off their shirts, standing in the shower, pouring flammable liquids on their chests, and lighting themselves on fire. Sometimes the teens start flapping around—because of the fire, remember—before they can turn on the shower, and then the flames spread to their shorts or the shower curtain and they end up in the hospital with severe burns. It’s called the Fire Challenge mom, and it’s all done in the name of internet fame.
German ISIS Supporters Started a Jihadi Social Media Campaign
As ISIS (The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) brings a horrifying brand of Islamo-fascism to large parts of Iraq with brutal efficiency, their European supporters are cheering them on to Baghdad with social media using the kind of meme-based clicktivism that would look more appropriate coming from facebook environmentalists or Twitter feminists than supporters of murderous extremists.
German ISIS fans created a Facebook campaign where other supporters of the terror group are invited to show their love for the caliphate by writing messages on cardboard signs and uploading them. The campaign, called “One Billion Muslims to Support the Islamic State,” is based around a simple premise, as one of the initiators explains:
“Just write ‘One Billion Muslims to Support the Islamic State’ on an individually designed piece of cardboard. Add your home country, in this case ‘Support from Germany,’ or some trademark of the country… This is an international campaign to thank the lions of our state… So get involved in shaa Allah! May Allah azza wa jall reward you, amin.“
This was the initiator’s post, complete with what looks like a font that is somehow worse than comic sans. The campaign is still very far from its ambitious goal of one billion posts, which they are hoping to reach today. Apart from some brothers in France and Austria, I have been unable to find any evidence that the campaign actually went international.
Still, a decent amount of German Jihadis took part. Their posts pretty much all included the ISIS logo. Often there would also be Arabic hashtags, like “#Dawla Islamiyya” or just “#Dawla,” meaning “The Islamic State” and “#Bi ithnallah,” meaning “By God’s will.”
While the written content was fairly uniform, German ISIS fans unleashed their creativity to support “their lions.“
Just because it’s a holy war doesn’t mean you can’t throw some color in there, right?
Get the Hell off Twitter, Morrissey
Morrissey is now on Twitter. We’re doomed. But I guess that’s progress.
In olden times, you had to wait ages for Morrissey to say that the Chinese were little yellow fungal spores splattered unevenly across the planet who should use their burgeoning space program to build a big rocketship that could cart them all off to the nuclear heart of the sun.
Honestly, under-25s, it was a whole process. First, a journalist had to be summoned. Then, the negotiations as to whether the banner headlines would over-summarize his racial opinions had to be undertaken with a publicist. A venue needed to be found. And a journalist to put his or her tapes in the tape recorder, and ask two questions: “How are you?” and “Do you think the Smiths will ever reform?” An hour later, a groaning tape recorder full of glib jokes and moans would have to be sent off for transcription. Finally, days, weeks, months later, the world would finally know what was wrong with the Chinese (they are a sub-species), and how it could be fixed (with flaming astral death). The headline-writers would then load up their headlines: “Bigmouth Strikes Again!” or something. Then the opinion writers would be summoned to put together essays about how He Really Has Gone Too Far This Time. Then a plucky freelancer would have to be dug up to rail against the backlash, and on and on, forever.
Now, all of that shit is going to be INSTANT. “Cut off the head of Dappy,” Morrissey will poke, one finger at a time, into his Samsung S5, and the three saps who write all the music news blogs will go: “Morrissey Stokes Controversy as He Urges Dappy Beheading.” “You’ll Never Guess What Morrissey Has Said Now…” Gawker will tease. “Beheading Dappy: N-Dubz Hitmaker Hits Back at Moz” the HuffPo will wail, despite its readers having no particular interest in either person.
Gen X Ruined the World Too
Hey, did you hear about the western Antarctic ice sheet? The melting there has reached the point of no return, which means we’re getting an extra ten feet added to our sea levels in the near future. A clear and direct threat to human life as we know it—we should be rioting in the streets, or at least posting more ice memes than net neutrality memes, right? Instead, as everyone knows, the scourge of the postmodern world, the Millennial generation, is too busy updating Snapchat on the iPhones they bought with their parents’ credit cards. But is it really all our fault?
Generation X has a lot more to do with our current shitshow than they believe. I’m not blaming them for the way the world looks—that’s on the Boomers—but our big brothers and sisters in Gen X screwed up our cultural priorities by teaching Millennials that self-obsession is the highest mark of cultural capital.
Everyone’s Tweeting Photos of Police Brutality Thanks to the NYPD’s Failed Hashtag
Twitter is a cool website where you can type any old thing into a box and senpecid it out into the ether for the entire internet to read. Some people use it to joke around, some people use it to be like, “HEY INJUSTICE IS HAPPENING, WHOA #GETINVOLVED” and some people use it in order to roleplay as characters from Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s a lot of fun, especially if you like heated arguments with total strangers.
Large institutions like corporations and government agencies use Twitter too, usually pretty badly. “Hey, we’re a pizza company, send us pictures of you eating our pizza and hashtag them #pizzapics” is an example of a typical lousy tweet from one of these accounts. Generally institutions try to drum up something vague called “social engagement”—basically they want to get people tweeting good stuff about them so other people see those tweets and, I guess, come to think good thoughts about the institution who started the engagement campaign. The New York Police Department was probably thinking they could do one of those social engagement thingies when they launched the hashtag #MyNYPD with this tweet:
What the person running the Twitter account probably failed to realize is that most people’s interactions with the cops fall into a few categories:
1. You are talking to them to get help after you or someone you knew was robbed, beaten, murdered, or sexually assaulted.
2. You are getting arrested.
3. You are getting beaten by the police.
Last time we checked in on British Jihadists, they were posting snaps of themselves messing about in swimming pools, hoarding Cadbury’s chocolates from home, and generally having a good time. Everything has changed.
"Behead first, ask questions later"
Advice for the Twitter Professional at US Airways Who Tweeted Hardcore Porn
Late last night, someone was complaining to US Airways about a bad experience she had had with that airline. This is an entirely normal thing to do—as much as 75 percent of Twitter’s content is users bitching about airlines being awful and the airlines’ corporate Twitter accounts apologizing and asking the dissatisfied customers to fill out online complaint forms. The person running the @USAirways account followed the script when responding this afternoon, apologizing profusely and politely. Then @USAirways tweeted an extraordinarily graphic picture of a naked woman holding her legs up and apart to reveal a model airplane jammed rather immodestly into her vagina. That was not a normal thing to do. Here’s how the exchange went:
THEN THERE WAS A FUCKING PHOTO OF A LADY WITH A PLANE IN HER JUNK. (Link here, but it’s NSFW because it’s the kind of weird, vaguely funny porn that no one even masturbates to.)
Amazingly, that photo stayed online FOR A FUCKING HOUR while everyone on Twitter was like “lol” and “wtf” and “smh” and “haha now we know where Flight 370 is right? oh shit too soon my bad.” Then US Airways was like, “We apologize for an inappropriate image recently shared as a link in one of our responses. We’ve removed the tweet and are investigating,” as if there were a black box recording of a twentysomething hitting Command-V in the wrong text box, or as if there were some kind of vast conspiracy to make everyone look at a picture of some lady having carnal relations with a toy.
To see what kind of #SocialMedia and #Branding lessons could be drawn from this incident, I talked to Hanson O’Haver, the VICE Social Editor—a.k.a. the guy who runs the @VICE Twitter account.
VICE: What did the person running the US Airways do wrong? Or did they do anything wrong?
Hanson O’Haver: Well, I did a little digging and it looks like the image they posted actually came from this tweet:
If you delete a tweet where you uploaded a photo, the link would be dead, so you can tell it originates from someone else’s account, not @USAirways.
What probably happened is that they were tweeted that link, copy/pasted it to send around for laughs or for some HR report, and then went to reply to the other person’s comment. They just pasted in the link and didn’t realize that the link they had meant to use hadn’t copied.
OK, and from a social media point of view, if you’re running a corporate Twitter account, do you generally want to tweet images of hard-core, graphic pornography? Or is that more of a social media “don’t”?
I mean, yeah, that’s generally looked down upon by clients. But in terms of increasing engagement, it’s certainly effective. Put it this way: US Airways wasn’t trending nationwide before they sent an angry customer a photo of a toy plane inside a vagina.
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.