Bill Doskoch: Media, BPS*, Film, Minutiae

Curated knowlege, trenchant insights & witty bon mots

The CBC Facebook project got hijacked. This is a surprise?

Globeandmail.com posted a CP story about how the CBC/Facebook wish list project got hijacked by special interest groups (something the blogosphere has noted for some time).

Here’s the top wishes from Canadians:

  1. Abolish Abortion in Canada
  2. I wish that Canada would remain pro-choice
  3. For a spiritual revival in our nation
  4. Restore the Traditional Definition of Marriage
  5. I wish tuition fees would be either lowered or eliminated

Yes, wherever I go, people are crying out for the abolition of abortion. It’s a top-of-mind debate in this great land of ours. :^)

Now, this is where the story gets goofy:

The outcome has observers pointing to the sophisticated ways that lobby groups are infiltrating and taking advantage of social networking sites, and CBC fans questioning the public broadcaster’s judgment.

I roll my eyes at that because what the lobby groups are doing isn’t that sophisticated. Swarming forums and hijacking polls isn’t exactly bleeding-edge stuff.

Addendum: It might be worth recalling the great LAT wikitorial disaster. You might also want to read this and this.

Another excerpt:

(CBC reporter Mike) Wise says the project was never meant to provide an accurate poll, but rather as an experiment to see how the broadcaster could harness the power of social networking sites to reach its audience.

Journalism professor Alfred Hermida says it was a good idea but poorly executed. He said the CBC should have tried to maintain some control over content by hosting the survey on its own site, but acknowledged that Facebook’s immense popularity made it an attractive platform to reach the young and hip and that hosting the project would have required immense time and resources.

At the very least, he says the CBC should have been more upfront about Facebook’s unmoderated nature and pointed out rogue tactics on the site as soon as they appeared, rather than relying on a separate CBC blog to explain the controversy.

Still, Hermida said it was a worthy exercise that other news organizations should examine.

“News organizations, the media, are in a war of innovation and so far, news organizations have lost every battle,” says Hermida, a new media specialist at the University of British Columbia.

“They’ve lost the classifieds to Craigslist, photo sharing to Flickr, social networking to MySpace and Facebook. Innovation has to become a core of journalism values. CBC should be praised for trying to do something innovative. It didn’t work — well, we just won’t do it this way next time. You learn from your mistakes.”

Well, Craigslist works by giving away free classifieds to people and charging businesses to post jobs. They don’t have to support the physical and intellectual infrastructure of oh, say, a newsroom, which is what a newspaper does. And that’s one reason why classifieds — which typically provide about 35 per cent of a newspaper’s revenue — are not free with newspapers.

One could argue that news organizations aren’t really in the business of sharing photos just for the sake of sharing photos. I’m not so sure they should be.

Similarly, I don’t know why it should have been considered a priority for news organizations to develop a way for teenagers to tell other teenagers what bands they like.

Afterthought: The other thing is that Google or Microsoft, two very successful software companies, didn’t develop the first photo-sharing, video or social networking sites; brilliant young entrepreneurs did. So asking news companies to succeed where real technology companies didn’t might be a bit much.

Now that I’ve said that, once the technologies are out there, progressive news organizations should  figure out how to harness them and improve their core function, which is journalism.

Addendum: Here’s a suggestion I had for the NYT back in 2006. They never acted on it. :)

While attempts at innovation should be praised, the Facebook problems should have been entirely foreseeable. CBC wasn’t dealing with “unknown unknowns,” in the memorable phrase of former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Anyways, here’s a blog post from Inside The CBC about the project.

There was a rejoinder from Tyee columnist Elain Corden on June 21:

“Just so you know — here at the CBC, we’ve received some complaints about the fact that we’ve continued to let this project continue, because “the wish list has been highjacked by anti-abortion lobby groups.” Our response? There’s no such thing as ‘highjacking’ with this project. Who ever can best organize their wish, and get the most people to support it… will come out on top. I guess the whole point is to BE good at lobbying for your wish.”

So “The Great Canadian Wish List” is in fact “Canada’s Next Top Lobbyist”? Okay, fine. So if I put “I wish for a return to slavery” up, and I get 3,000 bigots to join Facebook (or 1,000 bigots with three accounts each, for that matter), then that should be Canada’s greatest wish?

And someone at Inside The CBC responded thusly:

I dunno. I mean, come on, how are we supposed to learn about new technologies and social networks if we don’t experiment? The Facebook project might have its problems (I personally am more upset there isn’t an equivelent Canadian platform we could have used, than the actual results) but at least we’re poking around and learning.

And that’s a far cry from the previous spirit of “Uh, we don’t understand it, so let’s not do anything about it and keep on keepin’ on like we always have.”

Points for effort, at least?

Sigh. The problem is that you did an experiment that’s been done many  times before and failed each time, so brownie points would not seem to be warranted.

Inside The CBC also made this point:

Having been on the receiving end of emails from both groups asking for my online vote, one thing is clear — this experiment is a success at least from the point of view of capturing people’s attention.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Update

Inside The CBC reported that someone built a Facebook app to help with the vote-stacking.

Thu, June 28 2007 » Main Page, Media