I must commend the editor of the Sunday Business section of the New York Times. In a subtle, but thought provoking move, two seemingly unrelated articles – one about Internet scammer Vitaly Borker, and the other about Alicia Keys' philanthropic "Digital Death" Twitter campaign – were printed side by side.
Despite the different motives - the former to profit, the latter to save lives - Both individuals were banking on two sides of the same coin: that of a mass, almost monstrous, popularity influencing change.
But this call to action is nothing new. The subtext of this delicate placement was not so much that we, as digital citizens, can wield social media for “good or evil,” but that it is impossible not to be affected.
According to the column Farewell, Digital World. (It’s All for A Cause)., in honor of World Aids day, “celebrities…will stop communicating via Twitter and Facebook. They will not be resuscitated…until their fans donate $1 million dollars,” which will be donated to Keep a Child Alive, “which finances medical care and support services for children and families affected by H.I.V and AIDS in Africa and India.”
By “harnessing fame to philanthropy in an innovative way,” Alicia Keys and her charity’s co-founder Leigh Blake started the Buy Life campaign for Keep a Child Alive, “which sells $35 gray T-shirts imprinted with a bar code” that can be scanned with a smartphone – with each scan, the charity will donate $10.
But Mr. Borker, the star (or curiosity) of the article A Bully Finds a Pulpit on the Web, would violently disagree with positive “empowerment and social change.” According to the article, “he may be the pioneer of a new brand of anti-salesmanship- utterly noxious retail,” and he has “exploited this opportunity because it works. No matter where they post their negative comments, it helps my return on investment.”
Despite his psychological abuse and “the hundreds of additional tirades…on Get Satisfaction, ComplaintsBoard.com, etc.” his SEO has climbed on Google. He has taken “any publicity is good publicity” to a new extreme, emailing threats to customers, including printed pictures of their homes [taken from Google Maps].
Ultimately, Mr. Borker cannot survive in this digital world for long – he is making the fatal mistake of alienating his consumer base – and bad news spreads faster than good news. Though this may increase his presence quantitatively, his appalling customer service will drown in “noise.”
Buy Life, on the other hand, relies on quality – access to information - to spread the cause. These T-shirts transform mass marketing into fashion – with an accessible call to action – where consumers add their own value. Otherwise, who would care if Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga suddenly went silent?
An editor, like a music producer, separates noise from information. In this case, the Business Section editor is well aware of corruption and of benevolence. But the key is to never be silent; to never leave your community on hold.