An Inconvenient Truth: What Politics Is Teaching Us About the Value of Lies

By Sami McCabe

Does the truth matter any more?

Last month, 17.4 million people in the UK voted to leave the EU – a decision influenced, one assumes, by a succession of outright lies peddled by Brexit campaigners.

To the amazement of everyone who follows US politics, Donald Trump – an amusing rank outsider just 12 months ago – is the Republican Party candidate for the President of the United States, riding a wave of populism fuelled by a litany of untruths.

Image courtesy Gage Skidmore's Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore/

Image courtesy Gage Skidmore’s Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore/

Of course history is littered with examples of politicians who’ve achieved their goals by entertaining a somewhat relaxed relationship with the truth. But it’s hard to recall a period of such intense and apparently unchecked political falsifying on both sides of the Atlantic.

This got me thinking. Is there something about the way we disseminate and consume information today that makes the propagation and acceptance of falsehoods so easy, and therefore so dangerous? What is it about modern media that results in the lie often achieving more credibility than the truth?

Here are some initial reflections on how and why truth is increasingly irrelevant:

Traditional media has been usurped

You can’t underestimate the power of Donald Trump’s Twitter account. On average, @realDonaldTrump tweets are retweeted 2,200 times. The immediate mass dissemination of his often-incendiary comments and opinions blows any other media channel out of the water.

The New York Times dutifully runs its fact check of Trump’s speeches, but no amount of fact-checking – however well-intentioned – is going to recalibrate the opinions of many millions of people exposed to Trump’s tweets, whether directly as are his 10.1 million followers, or indirectly via a retweet.

He can say pretty much anything he likes, and even if he subsequently retracts it (usually very quietly), the damage is done. There are literally hundreds of examples of Trump tweeting outright lies.

Perhaps the most distressing and damaging example of this was his tweet that 81 percent of murders of white people in the US were perpetrated by African Americans. The actual number is 15 percent. This is a big, important difference in an election in which race is a key issue.

Images matter more than ever

When I reflect on the Leave campaign, two images stand out in my mind more than anything: Nigel Farage’s appalling ‘Breaking Point’ poster, and Iain Duncan Smith smugly pontificating next to a bus emblazoned with the promise that a post-Brexit NHS would benefit from a £350m per week boost to its budget.

Strong images have long been a key weapon in the propagandist’s arsenal, but even Leni Riefenstahl would have been impressed by the sheer ballsiness of Farage and Smith’s efforts. And Riefenstahl would surely have been envious of the ease with which these images – and the messages they communicate – reached the right people, at the right time, in their millions.

Both images, of course, were based on total fabrications. Smith subsequently backtracked from the NHS funding promise post-win, and Farage robustly defended his poster despite it actually depicting refugees fleeing war-torn Syria, not immigrants entering Britain to put additional strain on public services / take all our jobs / whatever xenophobic nonsense he was peddling.

Fear is motivating

Farrage was simply playing the game, of course. What he knows, much like Donald Trump, is that fear is hugely motivating. And the best way to create fear is to exaggerate the truth of a situation to the point that it bears no resemblance to reality.

This is common to both Trump and the Leave campaign’s approach to communications: focus first on inciting fear – by means of hyperbole and lies – then position yourself as the savior.

I noticed this week that Trump’s playing this game perfectly. After his relentless lying about black people being mainly responsible for white murders, Mexicans being rapists and Muslims being terrorists, at the GOP convention his ‘Make America Great Again’ slogan became, at times, ‘Make America Safe Again’.

People are terrified. Trump’s lies have fanned the flames of that fear. And now he’s telling frightened Americans that he’s the only man capable of making them secure again.

Ignorance is bliss

People don’t have the time or inclination to deeply consider anything today.

We live in a 140 character world in which immediately consumable information is thrown at us constantly. We therefore lap-up the sound bites, and remember the stuff that hits us hardest. And often the most startling pieces of information are those we find the most surprising – because they’re not true.

It seems to me that the information overload we’re all experiencing paradoxically makes us less well-informed. The more news we have, the less we question it. We believe and accept things on face value more readily than any population in history.

Depressingly, apparently millions of Britons who voted to leave the EU would now vote differently. Information they’ve processed in the past six weeks – probably just as immediately, and thus with just as little consideration – has persuaded them to completely change their minds.

Thanks to the way we share and consume information, honesty and integrity are qualities that simply aren’t successful in politics.

This shouldn’t mean we abandon integrity altogether. But what can we learn from Trump and the Leave campaign about how to successfully develop and share a message? In an age of information overload, how can brands communicate their value while being realistic about what they do?

If truth is essentially irrelevant to politicians’ relationships with the electorate, is it also irrelevant to brands’ relationships with consumers?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to comment below, tweet me @samimccabe or email me (sami@clarity.pr).

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An Inconvenient Truth: What Politics Is Teaching Us About the Value of Lies

The London Startup Scene: An American’s Perspective

By Bethany Hill

A few weeks ago, I took a train from London to York to indulge my inner medieval nerd. I’d lived for three years in New York before finally visiting its quaint namesake. One of the common themes throughout the weekend was that the city had such an abundance of history, it didn’t actually need to be discovered. Our pubs and ghost walks and B&Bs were above medieval manors and Viking compounds and Roman garrisons, but the archaeological attitude towards digging was nonchalance.

Who knows what’s under this field. Literally.

Having written my thesis on medieval English history, it was baffling to me that researchers would simply decline to excavate this treasure trove of primary evidence. Their view: these millennia of objects weren’t going anywhere, what was the rush? Instead, there was value in the knowledge that entire societies were built over ruins and relics, which literally support a cosmopolitan city today.

At a time when another ages-old city is undergoing a technology startup boom, it is precisely this approach that makes London so different from New York. Both cities incubate thriving tech communities, one bolstered by bagels and Dunkin, the other by digestive biscuits and Costa. Yet London presents a larger context to the boom of gadgets and apps: unlike the eager capitalism exemplified by New York and currently propelling San Francisco, London’s been here. (Not to mention, Karl’s got nothing on London fog.)

And what makes these two cities’ tech industries similar, compared to the atmosphere of Silicon Valley SaaSies, is that New York and London have both seamlessly integrated startups into the plethora of other fields that call these metropolises home: banking, fashion, advertising, the arts. These industries thrive because of their diversity, and these cities thrive because of their internationalization.

Where in the world can you walk from SoHo to Little Italy to Chinatown in a few blocks? There are two correct answers.

Time Out London, the week after Brexit (click on image to read).

Time Out London, the week after Brexit (click to read).

What London lends to its residents is a sense of sangfroid, of composure under pressure. New York fast is New York fast. There’s nothing like it. “I couldn’t live in New York, it’s too busy,” is a common refrain I hear from out-of-town friends. London is certainly busy, but it’s a meticulous sort of busy: the loud tick of a clock’s second hand instead of the scream of an alarm. When Brexit happened, there was disbelief and outrage and anger, but not violence or hate. Instead, Time Out London said, “thank you for making YOUR city your home.”

Along with this, Londoners possess the sort of rituals that help us keep calm and carry on. Why doesn’t New York have an evening paper? (My immediate gut response: “Well, I’d be too busy to read it.”) But now, reading the Evening Standard on the way home — and then parking myself at the kitchen table to finish it — has become a daily habit. During what has been one of the most stressful news months of recent memory, physically holding a prudent summary of the day’s events provides a way to process and reflect on our world.

What else is quintessentially London? Even after many trips to the UK, and a semester here in college, little cultural quirks continue to surprise me. For example:

  • Drinking outside in public is OK, but uncommon.
  • Apparently gym buddies are much more of a thing here.
  • Phones and data are much more competitively priced than in the US. A decent UK plan costs a fraction of its American equivalent.
  • It’s difficult to shake the paranoia that I am tipping incorrectly. As someone who’s worked in the service industry (thank you, Tripps Steakhouse!) I’m sensitive to stiffing someone, but don’t want to embarrass with a grossly disproportionate tip.
  • I never knew what “American food” was before coming here, but there’s a whole case of it at the supermarket.

America: giving the world cheese and chorizo macaroni, chicken burritos and Chilli Philly Steak Bake since 1776.

In the UK, I was prepared for my favorite Netflix shows not to work, for the bacon to be thick-cut and for the salmon to be much more affordable. But what’s surprised me is how much these cities have in common. New York tech is rushing ahead, but London moves with alacrity despite the weight of her history. In other words, New York may set the pace of the non-Valley tech grind, but London will match this pace with a steady stride. No matter what happens in the coming months, London will remain a crucial access point between European and American tech markets.

As we enter into a more uncertain time of this city’s history, I encourage entrepreneurs and startups not to take the wealth of international resources they have for granted. Be mindful of what we’ve created, but focus on the people and backgrounds that continue to make this city a progressive place to live and work. Digging up the past can wait. It’s time to keep moving forward.

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The London Startup Scene: An American’s Perspective
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An ode to the sharing economy

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past four(ish) years you’ll have noticed that consumers have been sharing stuff like never before. In turn we’ve been experiencing new ways of doing pretty much everything in a way that is simple, more fun and frankly more human.

 

And it’s all been made easy thanks to emerging technologies.

 

It’s revolutionised our everyday lives and had a massive impact to the way we get around, eat, go on holiday and even make our money, and in the UK we’re engaging with it more than any other country in Europe.

 

So hearing of the FT’s Sharing Economy Summit, held last week, we felt it pertinent Clarity attend. Not only was our client VizEat’s CEO and co-founder Jean-Michel Petit speaking under the category of ‘the next big sharer’ but we wanted to find out more about the current sharing economy trends and what we can expect from the future – both for businesses and consumers. Plus, we heard they had biscuits.

 

Speaking alongside VizEat were brands OLIO, Appear [here] and Propoly. Between the four companies, propositions ranged from disrupting how retailers engage retail spaces, matching those who want food with those that have it to reduce food waste, introducing tenants to landlords with smarts and speed, and connecting dinner party hosts from all over the world with travellers and people who simply want to eat and meet new people.

 

The sharing economy facilitates like-minded meetings, whether that’s to engage for, swap or sell goods or services. The philosophy behind the movement is to remove all things corporate and centres brands around the people using the services themselves. It also helps the ‘little people’ make the most of what they’ve got, whether that’s micro-letting their homes when they’re on holiday, hosting a dinner party which allows them to do what they love and earn some cash at the same time, or sharing their car to help pay for the cost of petrol. Essentially it is the human economy, connecting people from all over the world like never before with the end game being to make people’s lives more enjoyable, easier and at times, more profitable.

 

Technology is often stigmatised with making communities and relationships grow further apart, moving us away from meaningful or ‘real’ connections. But the sharing economy has shown the contrary, connecting strangers to have more than meaningful connections, facilitating generous and often extraordinary moments with outsiders.

 

The FT Sharing Economy Summit has given me a taste of what is budding and I for one am excited to see where and how it grows.

 

@lucyhastilow

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An ode to the sharing economy
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Tech for Good superstars

There are many organisations promoting the Tech For Good movement in the UK. We’ve picked out a few in this article, but these are by no means the only key advocates of Tech For Good in this country.

 

The Nominet Trust, headquartered in Oxford, describes itself as the UK’s leading social tech funder. It has awarded over £17m in grant funding to UK social ventures since 2009, with the people behind the ventures retaining 100% of the equity and 100% of the intellectual property. It is active in areas such as Education, Employment & Training, Environment & Sustainability, Health & Wellbeing, Local Communities, Open Data, Safety & Protection and Social Exclusion.

The Nominet Trust also publishes the Social Tech Guide, an online resource that celebrates the global pioneers who are using digital technology to change people’s lives for the better. It publishes the NT100, which highlights the most innovative social tech ventures from across the world, ranking the top 100 Tech For Good organisations in the world each year.

 

Download Clarity’s Tech For Good whitepaper

 

Moving to London, Bethnal Green Ventures is an organisation that has been instrumental in putting London at the heart of the Tech For Good movement. It describes itself as an accelerator for people who want to change the world using technology, providing an intensive three-month programme for those seeking to build solutions to social and environmental problems. It invests £15,000 in each team, taking 6% equity, for which the teams get access to a network of more than 200 mentors, weekly progress meetings, a tailored programme of workshops and talks, meetings with investors and a Demo Day at the end that allows the teams to present their ideas in a public forum.

Bethnal Green Ventures also helps to organise the Tech For Good meetup group in London – currently numbering in excess of 3,750 members – where it brings together hackers, coders, developers and designers with people who want to build digital solutions to social challenges.

 

Tech For Good TV is an organisation that works in partnership with Bethnal Green Ventures and the Cabinet Office, as well as Nesta, Social Innovation Europe and M/A to shine a light on the people and technology making the world a better place.

“We want to bring to life ‘Tech For Good’ in the broadest sense, from institutions to start-ups to charities. But we always have a special focus on telling stories from the user perspective, rather than just the founder or the technology,” the organisation says on its website.

 

ClearlySo is a London-based impact investment bank founded in 2008. ClearlySo works exclusively with high-impact businesses, charities and funds, supporting their capital raising activity through financial advisory work, and introducing them to institutional and individual investors who share their objectives and values. To date, its clients have raised more than £108m in investment.

Among its clients are: Eyejusters, which creates self-adjustable eye-glasses for people in the developing and developed worlds; Gojimo, a mobile-first revision app that helps students prepare for exams; and Fuss Free Phones, which makes easy-to-use mobile phones for the visually impaired and elderly people.

 

There are also a number of interesting startups and scaleups in this area hailing from the UK, such as:

ACCOMABLE

Accomable is a service that helps people with mobility difficulties find accessible properties around the world. Its mission is to enable anyone to go anywhere. When it was first set up, Accomable was supported by a grant from the Skoll Foundation, a charity founded by former eBay president Jeffrey Skoll which supports startups with a social purpose. “We kind of fell into the Tech For Good space. I have a problem-solving background – and asked if technology could make it better. I wanted to work on something where you felt you were helping everyday people,” said Srin Madipalli, CEO at Accomable.

“I find assistive tech fascinating. Today’s assistive tech is tomorrow’s gadget. When I was a kid, you would get these automations to open the curtains, or raise the bed – they were created for people with mobility problems. Now you stick a logo on it and it’s a home automation system. A disabled person is a good test bed for automation for able people. We’re hearing so much about driverless cars – the earliest adopters of these vehicles will be people who can’t drive, such as blind people. It’ll be the ultimate tech for good.”

 

SH:24

SH:24 works in partnership with the NHS to make sexual and reproductive health services more accessible and easier to navigate. It offers STI testing and other services online, making for a more convenient and empowered experience. On the other side of the coin, it also saves the NHS time and money, enabling highly trained doctors and nurses in traditional bricks-and-mortar clinics to concentrate on more complex cases.

“The fundamental principles of the Tech For Good movement are to support, foster, empower and enable organisations and individuals alike, to tackle challenging issues by applying tech in innovative and novel ways, to disrupt and support. Tech For Good’s relationship with economic growth should be equally straightforward – if wealth is generated, it should be as a by-product or a necessity for sustainability, rather than a principal driver,” said Chris Howroyd, Service Development Director at SH:24.

 

SALARY FINANCE

SalaryFinance is an organisation that aims to help employers improve the financial health of their employees. Co-founded by the former MD of Google UK, Dan Cobley, the company helps employees pay off their existing debt quicker by consolidating it into a single, low interest loan, at one third of the market average, with repayments collected from payroll. The interest rate is fixed and is the same for all employees, regardless of credit score or income. By collecting repayments directly from salary, rather than direct debit, SalaryFinance also reduces risk and cost to the lender, allowing these savings to be passed on to employees.

Cobley’s co-founder was Asesh Sarkar. Genuinely concerned about the financial well-being of UK employees, Sarkar was inspired to start SalaryFinance after finding out that his son’s nanny was desperately struggling with unmanageable, high-interest personal debt. Offering to help by paying off the debt himself and then taking manageable repayments directly from her monthly salary, he realised the same model could be applied across thousands of UK businesses.

 

WHAT3WORDS

what3words is a universal addressing platform founded in London and was highlighted in the most Nominet Trust NT100. Originally conceived as a way of helping festival organisers get their kit and talent to the right place, many of the ways in which it is now used put it very much in the Tech For Good category.

The system is a location reference platform based on a global grid of 57 trillion three-metre by three-metre squares, where each square has a unique pre-assigned three-word address. The solution helps everyone who needs to share or find a location, whether they are a refugee, a small business or an aid organisation.

It’s being used to deliver parcels and post in Rio’s favelas, medicine in South Africa’s Townships and solar lighting in the slums in India. It was used in Tanzania to monitor outbreaks of violence in the run-up to recent elections and as well as a cholera outbreak in Dar es Salaam. The United Nations has also built three-word addresses into its disaster reporting app UN-Asign.

 

 

Want to find out more about Tech For Good? Download Clarity’s Tech For Good whitepaper.

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Tech for Good superstars
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My first month in PR

This has been my first month in PR. I guess you would’ve gauged this from the title. It has also been my first work experience/graduate job following uni so I’m basically a fresher again – minus the intoxication and public indecency.

 

I wasn’t expecting to be employed so quickly, especially considering that I studied English Literature – which is one of those subjects that people tend to turn their noses up at and ask, ‘what are you going to do with that?’.

 

However I’d argue that the study of Humanities is a pretty valuable asset in the world of employment as many careers highly value entrants who can read and write well.

 

I digress, here are some take-aways from my first month in PR:  

 

  1. It isn’t just the journalists and editors that decide what goes in the papers. That sounds obvious now that I type it but I’m certain many people overlook this. ‘Top Five Apps to make your life easier’, ‘The best way to travel authentically’, ‘CEO of [insert company name] believes [insert opinion]’ are just a few examples of PR work.
  2. No day is the same. You’re constantly switching between work for entirely different clients; one minute you’ll be researching recent trends in the fintech industry, the next you’ll be pitching one of your clients to the press for a profile opportunity. In many regards the lack of repetition and the diverse workload has kept me from losing my mind whilst in full-time employment – which, as you’d imagine, is quite a transition from student life.
  3. Don’t post videos from UniLad on your work communication channels.

by Ollie Johnson

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My first month in PR