Shut Up and Dribble, Part 2

Winners, on the field and off.

As a country, we’ve long found pride and a sense of community through competitive sports and the victories of “our” athletes and teams, whether local, regional, or national. From youth participation and all that it imbues in our children to elite level competition and the myriad rooting interests we develop throughout our lives, sports are a cultural phenomenon the depth and breadth of which has few parallels.

The USWNT’s recent World Cup performance has earned the team, its star players, and women’s soccer, much due acclaim in recent days. They took care of business on the field and are using their platform to advocate for equal pay, LGBTQ acceptance, and more. If this makes you uncomfortable – good. Change isn’t easy, but they’re arguing for a more equal society and we should listen.

Like so many athletes before them, they’ve been told to shut up and dribble. LeBron didn’t. Neither will Rapinoe & Co.


Historical Context

Sport isn’t some siloed, esoteric enterprise that stands apart from our broader culture. Quite the opposite is true, sports have always reflected and often led, on a range of social and political issues.

  • Jesse Owens at the Berlin Olympics.
  • Jackie Robinson in MLB (too late, but well before the Civil Rights Act).
  • USA Hockey in Lake Placid.
  • The 1999 Women’s World Cup win.

All of these performances had lasting effects far beyond the field of play. To argue otherwise ignores history and context.


Criticism of the Team

In response to Megan Rapinoe’s assertion that the team wouldn’t visit the White House: “they should respect the President and country”.

Fun facts: the Warriors haven’t visited Trump and this year’s Patriots visit quietly fell by the wayside. I don’t need to recite all the reasons I wouldn’t go and I can’t know the leading motives of any of the teams, but if you think they should show up for the photo op and pledge fealty to a racist and anti-LGBT administration, you’re a gutless sycophant, not a proud patriot.

They celebrate too much, or the wrong way.

Among pro athletes, inclusive of soccer players, they’re rather subdued. If they were men, you’d ignore it. Supporting data: all men’s team sports.

They “stomped on” / “danced on” the flag.

This is false. Yes, it was dropped during the post-game celebration. This is wrong and shouldn’t have been allowed to happen. But in the moment, distracted by having achieved the pinnacle of your career in sports, things happen. Get over it.

The flag was then quickly picked up by a teammate, not stomped or danced upon. If you’re upset about the flag being on the ground for 2-3 seconds, that’s not what you’re actually upset about.


American Heroes

This is the best women’s soccer team the world has seen. They dominated the deepest Women’s World Cup field in history.

Off the field, they are using their success and their platform for good. Their impact is significant and I believe lasting.

We celebrate winners, always have. We, with the benefit of history, celebrate agents of positive change. They are both. As such, they are heroes. Not just to the tens of thousands of girls soccer players they will inspire for a generation, not just to the LGBT community, not just to women, no, this team should be embraced as heroes by all Americans.

Still don’t like this team? Still want them to “shut up and dribble”? They won’t.

Watch the NYC celebration here and below. If you oppose these positive and inclusive messages and think this group un-patriotic, our world views are irreconcilable. History will judge. I like my odds, a lot.

If you’re feeling aggrieved by this team, their strength and their voice, think long and hard about why. You’ll find answers in the realms of blind loyalty to POTUS, the fake patriotism of right-wing media, likely mixed with heavy doses of sexism and fear. Prove me wrong.

 

 

 

Momo Challenge – Be Smarter

Only you can stop viral hoaxes

Last week, I was warned by the school principal about the dangers of the “Momo Challenge”. It had not been reported by reputable news outlets and had already been debunked by some. Still, schools, police departments, and well-meaning adults worldwide were sucked into the fake news vortex and shared their fears with their friends online.

Context:

Yes, parents must monitor their kids’ online activities. Yes, an image of this very sculpture appeared in an otherwise benign Minecraft video, triggering several nights of bedtime fears right here at home. Yes, there are many ways kids can get themselves in trouble through what they share and whom they engage with, online.

But the Momo Challenge, clearly defined as violence and self-harm inspired by this character who was alleged to have infiltrated WhatsApp, YouTube, etc, is a hoax. Full stop.

 

These fears began last fall when images of the sculpture by the Japanese artist Keisuke Aiso began circulating online. The hoax gained much more momentum earlier this month.

The ‘Momo Challenge’: A sinister threat to young people or an urban myth?

 

Hoaxes like this exist only to the degree we give them life, so why was it so successful?

Fear.

We often fear things we don’t understand. For many well-intentioned adults, social media, and particularly WhatsApp, is a black box.

Media illiteracy.

Smaller news organizations, desperate for eyeballs, often lead with blood and fear. Many people read only the headlines. They then share foolish stories, uncritically.

Media literacy has never been more important. The success of fringe media and comments sections everywhere prove its non-existence.

Kids, and the virtue signaling mob that surrounds them.

We all want them protected, of course. But what sets this hoax apart from some others is the opportunity to virtue signal.

While Tide Pods were eaten, and condoms being snorted, by, per the urban myth, large numbers of teens, this one was coming for your elementary school children. Alerting your friends to this scourge makes you better than everyone else, a better parent. Schools sharing this demonstrably fake news must have made administrators feel better.

Worse still, many defended the decision to spread this misinformation, even after the hoax was debunked. Parents pivoted to the broader risks social media and communications platforms can present. While true, this obfuscates the point of the matter at hand. Our Superintendent defended the department’s sharing of it by suggesting it was best to “err on the side of caution.” That’s too low a standard for me. We must seek the truth before we can assess risks and how to mitigate them.

 

How we can do better.

Social media is full of scams and hoaxes. Some are benign “free vacation” offers seeking likes, followers, and your data. Trust me – you’re not going to win a Disney vacation by liking and sharing, not even if you type “done”. Fake news hoaxes, as has been well-documented in recent years, are widespread and pernicious. They don’t point to specific harms, but they are meant to inflame and divide.

We can do better. Thinking persons must do their part.

  1. Don’t spread misinformation. Odds are, if you’re reading this, you’re not the problem. Still, use Google or Snopes for a quick fact check before you share.
  2. Fight fear and misinformation with cold hard facts.

Here’s an excellent take on this topic: Don’t fall for it: a parent’s guide to protecting your kids from online hoaxes

 

You and your kids have never been safer. Take a breath and check the facts. Let’s do better next time.

 

Latest: ‘Momo Challenge’ Sculpture Has Been Destroyed

Programmatic Video Highlights

AI Video Classification

For many years, and with rapidly accelerating levels of targeting sophistication, marketers have been tailoring their messaging to our tastes. Leveraging our data and capitalizing upon our shopping behaviors, they have successfully delivered finely-tuned, personalized messaging.

Consumers are curating their media ever more by the day. We’re buying smaller cable bundles, cutting cords, and buying OTT services a la carte. At the same time, we’re watching more and more short-form video. Video media is tilting toward snack-size bites and, of course, on demand.

Cable has been in decline for years and the effects are now hitting ESPN, once the mainstay of a cable package. Even live sports programming, long considered must see and even bulletproof by media executives, has seen declining viewership.

 

So what’s to be done?

To thrive, and perhaps merely to survive, content owners must adapt. Leagues and networks have come a long way toward embracing a “TV Everywhere” distribution model despite the obnoxious gates at every turn. But that’s not enough and the sports leagues know it.

While there are many reasons for declining viewership and low engagement among younger audiences, length of games and broadcasts are a significant factor. The leagues recognize that games are too long. The NBA has made some changes that will speed up the action and the NFL is also considering shortening games to avoid losing viewership. MLB has long been tinkering in the same vein. These changes are small, incremental, and of little consequence to the declining number of viewers.

Most sporting events are characterized by long stretches of calm, less interesting play that is occasionally accented by higher intensity action. Consider for a moment how much actual action there is in a typical football or baseball game. Intuitively, most sports fans know that the bulk of the three-hour event is consumed by the time between plays and pitches. Still, it’s shocking to see the numbers from the Wall Street Journal, which point out that there are only 11 minutes of action in a typical football game and a mere 18 minutes in a typical baseball game.

 

A transformational opportunity

There is so much more they can do. Recent advances in neural network technology have enabled an array of features to be extracted from streaming video. The applications are broad and the impacts significant. In this sports media context, the opportunity is nothing short of transformational.

Computers can now be trained to programmatically classify the action in the underlying video. With intelligence around what happens where in the game video, the productization opportunities are endless. Fans could catch all of the action, or whatever plays and players are most important to them, in just a few minutes. With a large indexed database of sports media content, the leagues could present near unlimited content personalization to fans.

Want to see David Ortiz’s last ten home runs? Done.

Want to see Tom Brady’s last ten TD passes? You’re welcome.

Robust features like these will drive engagement and revenue. With this level of control, fans are more likely to subscribe to premium offerings, offering predictable recurring revenue that will outpace advertising in the long run.

Computer-driven, personalized content is going to happen. It’s going to be amazing, and we are one step closer to getting there.

Mark Zuckerberg, Global Editor-in-Chief

 

Mark Zuckerberg, Global Editor-in-Chief

Not a hot take:  Facebook is a media company

 

Not just a “social” media company. Simply put, they’re the world’s biggest media company.

What about Google?  Not a media company.

But Google Plus?  Irrelevant.  Google News?  Curated differently, and far less — professional media only, promoted based on preferences and relevance.

 

So why Facebook?  Curation.

The day Facebook started curating our feeds is the day it became a media company. I’m not complaining or even suggesting there’s an alternative. Whatever the underlying exact metrics that govern our feeds, they are critical to our use of the platform and FB would be a noisy shit-show without these smart, useful measures.

The fact that these decisions are being made by computers and on the fly doesn’t absolve Facebook of editorial responsibility. The algorithms report to the engineers and the engineers to Mark. So now, as has been the case for a while but was forcefully exposed this fall, he’s got significant editorial responsibility.

Facebook stands alone in its reach, relevance, and responsibility. Mark Zuckerberg is now the world’s Editor-in-Chief.

Think that’s hyperbole? Not with 1.8B MAUs. Not with a market cap over $300B. And not when you’re the founding CEO who is the face of and wield significant shareholder voting control over, the company.

This isn’t simply about fake news, or silos, confirmation bias bubbles and the like. It’s much bigger than what’s trending, how, and why. As the world’s preeminent news organization, Facebook is going to have to figure out all of this and more.

This is a huge, complicated problem. Balancing their business objectives and this enormous responsibility will be difficult, but it’s in their interest, and their customers’ interests, to make the necessary investments in this area. Fortunately, they have billions in cash and many smart people on the team.

 

So Mark — years ago, you probably did imagine yourself in Bill Gates’ shoes. You’ve done that. Awesome. Congrats. Now welcome to a whole new level of responsibility you may never have considered.

Best of luck. The fourth estate may depend on it.