Reading Between The Lines Part 2
I like Victoria Beckham. She knows how to play the journos’ game and seems pretty good at weathering its random cruelties, especially when the press periodically decides to gang up on her for no other reason than her being a successful career woman and mother. Ms Beckham grew up with social media and knows what to do; others aren’t so worldly.
Google a celebrity’s name and you’ll also find plenty of social media manipulation going on. A lot of content will have been removed at the request of lawyers, and the top listings are all pro-PR with no nasty gossip. That’s smart. It’s not technically illegal, either.
The biggest problem for social media manipulators is knowing whether they’re having any effect at all. Visit any large company and sooner or later you’ll find a meeting taking place between management and social media experts who get very excited about Twitter traffic and website footfall. They’ll offer silly buzzwords (often involving a pun on the word ‘create’) to cover up the fact that they still can’t explain why sales are down.
Traffic doesn’t correlate to sales. It’s a distant race memory implanted because you recall that restaurant which was on a sidestreet that nobody visited and went bust. It wouldn’t have necessarily done better on the high street; just because people look in your window it doesn’t mean they’re going to buy. I guess some readers of this site may buy a book I talk about but they’re probably here because it’s the other way around; they read a book and visit the site.
Manipulating social media looks sort of important and modern, and it’s a good way to head off poisonous press. But what can you believe in the stories that do get through?
It’s quite easy to trace back most articles back to their origins if you have the time and patience. Tabloids rely on you not having that time. If they get caught out they’ll happily print a tiny retraction on page 2, knowing that the story has already hit its mark.
Let’s put this to the test.
Okay, it took me less than ten seconds to locate the first dodgy story. The headline (from an ever-unreliable source, the Daily Mail) concerned Labour MP Diane Abbott’s failure to vote on Brexit due to illness.
‘No one believes her!’ Labour fury at Diane Abbott’s missing vote on Brexit as MPs doubt her claim she was taken ill hours before the historic moment
There’s your unattributed ‘quote’, right at the start of the headline. Further in we get;
‘Sources close to Ms Abbott said she was taken ill at around 5pm and had to head home to Hackney after speaking in Westminster Hall.’ The ‘sources’ (plural) boil down to ‘One furious Labour backbencher’. No evidence of ‘Labour fury’, no proof of anything, no name attached to the mysterious back-bencher so eager to talk to the Daily Mail.
The story is dubious anyway, because while it may be true that Abbot pulled a sickie to get out of being fired, it simply provides an excuse for the public to believe what they already suspect. Mail head honcho Paul Dacre is on record saying that the best Mail story is one that confirms your worst fears. Try applying that rule to most Mail stories.
The Mail’s second lead article involves…yes, Kim Kardashian’s weight. But hang on, this isn’t an article at all, it’s tied to a sales pitch for a cheap, nasty thong being offered though the paper! The website (the world’s most successful, apparently, which proves there must be a lot of ESLs reading) is mainly geared at C and D women (a marketing rating denoting lowly-evolved punters) but is craftily filled with fake stories requiring shots of naked female flesh. Something for everyone.
And about photographs; if you compare yesterday’s Kardashian shot with Beckham’s you’ll find the same trick. ‘Drop your head, turn half-right, eyes back to me.’ No chin problems that way. Well, we all want to look our best. Ivor Novello never let anyone photograph him from the left side, and Barbara Cartland always marked a large X in front of her chair for the place to put the spotlight in order to bleach out her lines. It’s why celebs wear shades and look down. No lines or chins.
Do we care about all this manipulation? Only when it starts actively hurting someone. But it’s good to read between the lines. If you want to do something about the Mail, use the #StopFundingHate hashtag on Twitter.
And don’t believe everything you read.