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Cairo to Kyiv: Social media’s rocky ride through conflict zones

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Facebook was hailed during the Arab Spring revolts, but its reputation was later tarnished


Facebook was hailed during the Arab Spring revolts, but its reputation was later tarnished – Copyright AFP/File KHALED DESOUKI

Joseph BOYLE with Bahira Amin in Cairo

When Yarema Dukh set up Ukraine’s official Twitter account in 2016, he knew that social media was the best way for his country to get its message out.

“We never had the means like the Russians to found multinational media like RT or Sputnik,” the former government communications adviser told AFP over the phone from Kyiv.

Since Russia’s full invasion last month, the Kyiv government has used social media to highlight atrocities, issue messages of defiance and even share a joke or two.

Young Ukrainians have used TikTok to chronicle life under Russian siege and tech enthusiasts have commandeered Telegram channels to organise donations of cryptocurrency.

On the other hand, Russia has launched an onslaught against Western tech firms and all but ended free speech online.

The Ukraine war marks the expansion of social media in conflicts from a tool of the outsider to a genuinely ubiquitous presence.

But the tortuous history of its relations with protest movements and governments — from 2011’s Arab Spring to Myanmar today — suggests Ukraine will have to fight to hold on to its gains.

– Amplifying the message –

Back in 2011, Facebook was far from the behemoth it is today and Twitter barely registered in many countries.

“We were fighting to carve out a space in the margins,” said Hossam El-Hamalawy, an Egyptian activist who became a prominent voice during the Arab Spring protests.

The revolts across the Middle East and North Africa became known as the “Facebook revolution” but the jury is still out on its overall role.

Hamalawy said social media’s real power was not as an organising tool but as a way of amplifying the message.

“I knew that anything I wrote on Twitter would get picked up (by mainstream media),” he told AFP from his home in Berlin.

In the early 2010s in Ukraine, Dukh says the most popular social media was a blogging platform called LiveJournal.

But then a journalist posted a message on his Facebook in 2014 promising to launch an anti-government rally if he received 1,000 replies.

When he got enough replies, he went to Maidan square in the heart of Kyiv and launched a protest that brought down the pro-Russian government.

The exposure also helped Facebook become the number one social network by far in Ukraine.

During this period, the US tech giant was happy to embrace its association with outsiders and protesters.

Company boss Mark Zuckerberg wrote in 2012 that the firm was not interested in profits but rather in empowering people to carry out social change.

However, social media companies were already in a much more complex position.

– ‘Extremely naive’ –

Burmese journalist Thin Lei Win said 2012 was the moment when Facebook “became the internet” in Myanmar.

“Everything was on Facebook and everybody was sharing everything,” she told AFP.

But some of the messages being shared were incendiary, spreading false information that stoked violence between Buddhist nationalists and the Muslim Rohingya minority.

By 2018, a UN rapporteur called the platform a “beast” and accused it of inciting racial hatred.

The wheels came off in Egypt too, where faction fighting among protesters on the street was mirrored by bitter feuds online.

Protest leader Wael Ghonim, whose Facebook messages had helped to galvanise the movement, told US broadcaster PBS in 2018 that he soon became a target of online disinformation.

“I was extremely naive,” he said, “thinking that these are liberating tools.”

Meanwhile in Ukraine, the Maidan revolution was also turning sour.

Moscow had used it as a pretext for annexing Crimea and sowing unrest in Ukraine’s east.

Dukh, as a new recruit in the government’s communications team, found himself battling Russian troll farms.

– Three-finger salute –

Activists in Arab Spring countries now lament how the platforms they once lauded have been retooled to serve the powerful.

A group of NGOs wrote an open letter to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube last year accusing them of supporting repression by systematically shutting accounts of dissidents across the region.

In Myanmar, a military junta seized power in a coup early last year, ending several years of liberalisation.

Dissent quickly spread across social media with the three-finger salute borrowed from the “Hunger Games” movies proving popular.

But Thin Lei Win said the authorities were aware that Burmese people were enthusiastic sharers and began stopping people in the streets and demanding to see their phones.

“If you had posted anything on your social media critical of the junta or supportive of the NUG (National Unity Government) you could be arrested,” she said.

– ‘Whack-a-mole’ –

Facebook and other platforms closed accounts of the Burmese generals shortly after the coup and, according to Thin Lei Win, established platforms have hugely improved their record with disinformation.

Thin Lei Win and activist groups point out that the generals have since hopped on to other networks and their messages still get through.

“It’s like whack-a-mole, you close something, something else pops up,” said Thin Lei Win.

Younger companies like TikTok and Telegram have been criticised for continuing to host Burmese military propaganda.

In Ukraine too, TikTok and Telegram have both been accused of failing to tackle Russian disinformation.

But Dukh, who left the Ukrainian government in 2019, continues to see the positive side of social media.

He said Ukraine had learnt lessons from its years of dealing with Russian disinformation and could share them with the world.

“We are good learners and I hope after the victory we’ll be good teachers as well,” he said.



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Twitter Applies for US Licenses to Facilitate In-App Payments

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Twitter Applies for US Licenses to Facilitate In-App Payments

Twitter has taken its next steps towards facilitating payments in the app, with The Financial Times reporting that the company has begun applying for regulatory licenses in US states, the next legal requirement for providing payment services in the app.

Payments, which Elon Musk has a long history in, could be another way for Twitter to generate revenue, by enabling transactions between users, from which it would then take a small percentage. Musk has repeatedly flagged his vision for payments as part of his broader push to make Twitter into an ‘everything app’, which would provide more functionality and usage benefits.  

As reported by FT:

In November, Twitter registered with the US Treasury as a payments processor, according to a regulatory filing. It has now also begun to apply for some of the state licenses it would need in order to launch, these people said. The remainder would be filed shortly, in the hope that US licensing was completed within a year, one of the people said.”

From there, Twitter would also look to establish agreements with international regulators to enable payments in all regions.

As noted, payments are a part of Elon’s broader plans for a more functional app, which would replicate the utility of China’s WeChat, which is used by Chinese citizens for everything from ordering groceries, to buying public transport tickets, to paying bills, etc. WeChat has become such a crucial connective element, that it formed a key part of China’s COVID response, with authorities using the app as a means to manage COVID positive citizens and restrict their movement.

Musk isn’t ideally looking to use Twitter as a control device (I don’t think), but the broader concept is to add in more and more functionality, in order to both generate more income for the company, and make the app a more critical element in the interactive landscape.

Twitter’s already exploring several options on this front.

Several app researchers have uncovered mock-ups for Twitter Coins in the back-end of the app.

Via Twitter coins, users would be able to make donations to creators in the app, through on-profile tipping, but beyond that, Twitter’s also exploring options like unlockable tweets, paywalled video, and more, as it seeks to embed broader usage and adoption of in-app payments.

A big opportunity also exists to facilitate remittance, or sending money to family and friends, which is a key use case in many regions. Remittance payment services often charge processing fees, and various social apps have been trying to find new ways to facilitate such without the same costs, with the idea being that once people are moving their money in-app, they’ll then be more likely to spend it in the same place.

Thus far, social platforms that do offer payments haven’t been able to embed this as a use case – but maybe, with Musk’s experience, knowledge and connections, he might be able to make this work in tweets.

Elon, of course, got his start in payments, with his first company, an online bank called X.com, being bought out by PayPal in 1999, his first big business win. And while his focus has since shifted to electric cars and rockets, Musk has keen understanding of the digital payments space, and how it can be adapted for varied usage.

According to reports, Musk told Twitter investors in May last year, that his aim was to see Twitter bring in about $1.3 billion in payment revenues by 2028.

That would give the company a sorely needed boost. After Musk’s cost-cutting efforts, which have resulted in the reduction of around 70% of Twitter staff, the company could be on track to potentially break even this year, or close, but a lot has to go right to get the platform back on track. And with advertisers continuing to back away from Twitter spend, it’s not looking good, while subscriptions to Twitter Blue are unlikely to provide much relief, at least at this stage.

As such, the shift into payments can’t come fast enough, though it’ll still be some time before we see the possibility of in-app payments.

Also, while Musk has made it clear fiat currency will be the main focus of this push in its initial phase, cryptocurrencies could also, eventually, be included. The price of Dogecoin, Musk’s favorite crypto offering, rose to a 24-hour high after news broke of Elon’s expanded payments plan.

Will payments be the answer to Twitter’s revenue woes? Maybe, if Elon’s vision for billions in payments revenue comes to fruition – and with his previous track record, you can’t dismiss the notion entirely.

But it’ll take time, many approvals, and many more steps before we reach the next stage.

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Social Responsibility And Ethics In Influencer Marketing

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Social Responsibility And Ethics In Influencer Marketing

Chief Growth Officer (CGO) at HypeFactory, a global influencer marketing agency.

It’s no secret that influencer marketing popularity has skyrocketed over the past couple of years, and partnering with influencers isn’t a new concept. Just over the past year, the industry was valued at $16.4 billion and still keeps growing, with a whopping revenue forecast of $143.10 billion in 2030.

Since the beginning of influencer marketing, people have talked about how influencers and social responsibility fit together. It stands to reason that influential people would use their large fan bases to help others. However, when influencers and businesses collaborate, they each have specific responsibilities to the communities in which they operate.

Sponsorship Transparency And Gender Stereotypes

One of the most critical skills for an influencer is honesty. Influencers base their marketing strategy on being genuine and sharing personal tales and thoughts with their target audience. They are not celebrities living in a bubble of fame that very few of their followers will ever reach; instead, they live lifestyles that are reachable and use items that their viewers would find helpful. This approach has significantly contributed to their immense level of success.

However, many influencers don’t play by the rules, especially when it comes to impressing brands they’ve made deals with, even though transparency is essential to the sustainability of an influencer’s career. Because of this, many people would think that the most important ethical issue in influencer marketing is sponsorship disclosure.

The United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in the United Kingdom have all put out rules about how influencers should be honest in their posts and about their relationships with brands. If you disobey the regulations, you risk facing penalties, fines and legal bills. You also risk losing the trust of your customers for good.

Moreover, when doing influencer marketing, it’s essential to consider gender stereotypes and how people usually think men and women will act in different situations. The Committee on Advertising Practice (CAP) has said that since June 2019, marketing materials could no longer show men and women in ways that are based on stereotypes. These rules state that ads “must not use gender stereotypes that are likely to hurt or offend a large number of people.” Great campaigns, like Nike’s “Dream Crazier,” have challenged gender preconceptions.

Improving Influencer Marketing’s Reliability And Authenticity

Authenticity is essential in influencer marketing. People listen to influencers who are honest and relatable. In addition to the moral problems I mentioned above, brands and influencers must also follow FTC rules, community guidelines and terms of service on social media platforms.

Based on my experience as a chief growth officer at a global influencer marketing agency, here are some things brands must consider for influencer partnerships that are authentic and reliable.

Outline—and stick to—the ethical principles that your brand stands for.

Before you can begin your search for the ideal influencers, you must first understand the core principles of representing your business. Most businesses start by determining their values and ethics early on. They then use these to build their brand identity. It’s up to each company’s brand to decide where they will draw the line and how they will show their core values on social media.

However, consumers place a high value on consistent honesty. Customers are likely to call out your company for being hypocritical if it says it wants to fight racism but then partners with an influencer who has a history of making small slights against people of color. Or if your company promotes equal pay yet pays female influencers less than it does male influencers, contributing to the continuation of the pay gap between male and female influencers.

As a result, you will likely lose the trust of these customers.

Collaborate with real influencers.

One of the most effective ways to stick to influencer marketing principles is by collaborating with real-life influencers. Choosing the right influencers is crucial for building consumer confidence in your product.

Determine which influencers are authentic and have credibility with your intended audience. Specifically, it would be best to look at how many people engage with their content and how good it is. Even though engagement numbers are essential, they only tell part of the story about an influencer’s reliability. Please pay close attention to their writing style, the brands they’ve worked with, the accuracy of their reviews, etc.

Develop a long-term partnership.

When you’ve found a group of genuine, influential people with whom you can collaborate successfully, it’s crucial to keep in touch with them over time. Even if they are paid to review a product, genuine influencers always give honest opinions. Because they follow all the rules, the spectator can have more faith in them.

Consequently, after a shortlist of influencers has been compiled, you should perform authenticity checks. Check their content feed for branded articles. Make sure that any disclaimers you find adhere to the first point’s disclosure guidelines. Consistently partnering with the same influencers demonstrates to customers that you value their brand’s success just as much as they do, which can increase consumer confidence in your business.

Conclusion

Authenticity serves as the cornerstone of the influencer marketing strategy. Influencers earn the trust of their followers and become successful when they always provide high-quality, authentic, relatable content.

In addition to the concerns over the morality of influencer marketing, brands and influencers must follow the criteria established by the FTC and the community guidelines and terms of service based on social media platforms. You can shield your brand from potential ethical and legal difficulties and still enjoy success with influencer marketing if you are aware of the expectations and follow certain best practices.


Forbes Agency Council is an invitation-only community for executives in successful public relations, media strategy, creative and advertising agencies. Do I qualify?


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Key Notes on Building Your Brand via Your Social Profile Visuals [Infographic]

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Key Notes on Building Your Brand via Your Social Profile Visuals [Infographic]

Looking to give your social profiles a visual refresh for the new year?

This could help – the team from Giraffe Social Media recently put together an overview of the whys and hows of building your brand via your social profile visuals.

There are some good notes here – a key consideration is consistency, which ensures that you’re building your brand with every post and update.

Check out the full infographic below.

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