The Year of Autonomy

As winter turns to spring, we find ourselves revisiting some of the assumptions about brands, business and behaviours we have made at the beginning of the year. We invite you to delve deeper with us into what is currently happening in our industry and to explore some new curiosities that have piqued our interest.

1.0 Conscious Consumer

Consumers act with more understanding of their rights and responsibilities.

1.1 The Rise of the Digital Nomad

1.2 Purposeful Travel

1.3 Silver Surfers go mobile

1.4 The Great Migration of the Trolls

Internet trolls. They lurk insidiously on forums and social media, sewing trouble ever since the Internet began. Where once they kept to the shadows of 90s chat rooms, today’s internet trolls are far more visible, vocal and, critically, evasive. Social media platforms are cracking down on troll’s antics but in 2019 we will see these dissidents find new digital homes to escape moderation. Welcome to The Great Migration of the Trolls.

Trolls are complex creatures that escape clear understanding, but The Oxford English Dictionary provides us with a useful definition: “someone who posts unkind or offensive messages on social media sites, and often tries to start arguments with other users.”

This last point is key: an internet troll’s motivation is to divide and conflict. In the 80s and 90s such behaviour was confined to the margins of the internet: chat boards, forums and other low-profile places. Because they were so peripheral, trolls went largely unpoliced. Fast forward to today and trolls have found a new, louder mouthpiece to deliver their message: social media. The messages they spread are at times frightening, dangerous and manipulative. When faced with such potentially harmful behaviour, the social media platforms that gave trolls their platform have been forced to act.

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In 2018 Facebook and Twitter both made active attempts to chase trolls off their platforms, giving them no opportunity to indulge in their toxic behaviours. Trolls are resilient things however, and instead of abandoning their mission of division and chaos, they simply took it to new corners of the internet. Next stop: Linkedin.

Linkedin has a Facebook-like timeline and an array of tools for commenting, liking and sharing provide a familiar landscape to trolls expelled from Facebook and Twitter. The Platform allows for peer-to-peer content sharing and, crucially, response mechanisms. It has all the perfect conditions for Facebook and Twitter’s evicted trolls seeking a new home.

Growing numbers of LinkedIn profiles have begun to openly display political views: offensive memes, fake news and outright trolling of other users’ posts have begun to appear. The trolls have indeed found a new home. Not only have they moved, but the trolls have adapted, changing the content they produce to best suit the platform. They are posting material under the guise of professional content, but often delivering ulterior messages. While the platform is ostensibly for professional content, much of what the trolls are publishing remains politically motivated, as reported by Buzzfeed late last year.

How can trolling be removed from a platform? The key is often recognition. In 2017, speaking to Recode, Daniel Roth, Editor-in-Chief at LinkedIn, downplayed the significance of fake news and, by extension, trolls on the platform. He said: “It is very hard to input any kind of fake news on LinkedIn. You can share it, but it won’t go wide.” Indeed, last year LinkedIn ranked as the most trustworthy social media platform surveyed by Business Insider – the presence of such trolls doesn’t seem to be affecting perception of the platform. Yet Facebook’s 2018 crackdown on trolls came after the platform accepted that they needed to do more to combat fake news distribution. Recognition is the first step to removal.

To its credit Linkedin has since stepped up its efforts to make the platform less hospitable to Trolls. In September 2018 LinkedIn published a report on how exactly they blocked fake accounts and were committed to preventing the behaviours of “bad actors”. They even gave an instance of blocking 5 million fake accounts in just one day. Such efforts are applaudable and Linkedin are fighting hard to remove trolling from their site.

The transition of trolls from Facebook and Twitter to Linkedin is a largely US-based migration and one which Roth and his colleagues are doubtless working hard to combat. However, we believe this migration it is a portent of what’s to come: internet trolls becoming more itinerant, moving from platform to platform to evade discipline and maintain widespread mischief. If LinkedIn are successful, it’s not a stretch to imagine trolls finding a new home on an alternative social media platform. Fast-growing platforms such as Tik-Tok may be next.

So how do we eradicate such evasive creatures as trolls? A profound redesign of social media could be the answer. Imagine platforms that promote and reward quality over quantity, sanity over vanity. An Internet where it’s less about click bait, and more about genuinely adding value to digital journeys. This may not be such a stretch of the imagination as you think: as we outline in our trend ‘Social Media Develops a Conscience’ many of the major social media players are investing time and effort into this vision of the internet. Be afraid Trolls, for your migration may be coming to an end.

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2.0 Mindful Marketing

Unethical and inauthentic advertising behaviours are actively rejected.

2.1 The Parasitic Storytelling Crisis

Storytelling has always been central to human existence. A simple search on Google for what storytelling is delivers autocomplete options that include: “…the oldest form of education”, “…a powerful tool” and “…important to culture and society”. Our brains are hungry for stories and it is this mental mobility – the ability to think beyond the here and the now – that makes us unique as humans. At a fundamental level, stories allow us to digest information more easily because they connect information to emotion. Storytelling involves a symbiotic exchange between a teller and a listener: in the traditional story arc, the build-up of tension leading up to the climax is what gets people to pay attention and connect with the narrative on an emotional level.

Today’s marketing reality, however, couldn’t be more different. In fact, certain brands seem to be engaging in storytelling behaviours that benefit themselves (such as aggressively chasing higher Click Through Rates), whilst potentially harming their consumers (at the expense of allowing their audiences to engage with their content in an emotionally meaningful way). As digital consumers, we’re deluged with information across platforms and it’s now affecting our ability to concentrate and even store long term memories. Advertisers chasing ROI from eyeballs could be likened to parasites feeding off their hosts – their customers.

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Stories which appear within advertising placements and formats on the Superplatforms (such as Google and Facebook) are shortened to fit into a quick scroll on a user’s mobile device. We are essentially down to 2-3 seconds during which we have a chance to ‘engage’ audiences with our story. Not surprisingly, the modern story arc structure has become compressed and frontloaded, beginning with the highest point of the story and thereby skipping the gradual build-up of tension and an establishment of an emotional connection altogether. Consider YouTube, the leading video Superplatform’s storytelling best practises: “The emerging story arc starts fast, keeps up the pace, and delivers messaging with unexpected surprises until you fade out – no more build up, climax, and pay off. Go fast!”. Rather than cultivate an emotionally meaningful connection, it tells us to hit the audience with the best upfront and continue to bombard them at a fast pace until they ‘fade out’. This, at its core, is a parasitic approach to storytelling, because it encourages the storyteller to exploit its host and cause a change in their behaviour in order to enable its transmission, which often affects the host’s decision-making abilities altogether.

Over time, this encourages us to adopt an always on, continuous partial attention (CPA) mindset, where we exist in a constant state of alertness that scans the world but never really gives our full attention to anything. It’s been suggested that this may be harmful to our long-term mental health, because the constant, frontloaded story ‘hits’ increase our stress hormone production (adrenaline and cortisol), which knocks out our feel-good neurotransmitters cortisol and dopamine, provoking a sense of addiction in us that can only be reined in temporality by checking our notifications.

Simply put, it could mean that brands that engage in this form of storytelling are nourishing their own interests at the expense of the health of their customers.

Implication for marketers: brands need to approach their communications strategies as symbiotic relationships, where a balance of benefits is cultivated by both parties (the teller and the listener) working together to achieve something positive.

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2.2 Content Marketing without Filters

A powerful example of this in action is recently elected US politician, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who made history by becoming the youngest woman to be elected into congress. Ocasio-Cortez achieved such unprecedented success in part by building her own brand with a completely stripped back, raw, and real approach to communication, principally through social media. The secret to her success is not complex or secret, as she reveals herself when sharing advice she gave to fellow US Democrat House Members:

“Rule No.1 is to be authentic, to be yourself and don’t try to be anyone that you’re not. So don’t try to talk like a young kid if you’re not a young kid, don’t post a meme if you don’t know what a meme is. That was literally my advice.”

This authentic approach was arguably the key to the success of her election. In a world overwhelmed with politicians making false promises, she’s building trust by being authentic and transparent.

2.3 The Frontier of Social Commerce

Beacons of taste in their established niches, the influencer and e-commerce relationship will grow even stronger as users will be exposed to a heightened sense of attainable aspiration – with pricing and information on every product, service or experience they see positioned just a click away.

This kind of interactivity in social media will create a more empowering and satisfying experience than the passive scroll-through of today. The social feed will become the new shopping mall, driving conversation as well as conversion with users in an ‘always-on’ shopping frame of mind, even if not consciously so.

According to Instagram, there are more than 90 million people already using product tags, with key players such as Pinterest and Snapchat exploring shop now features. If the path-to-purchase gets reduced further, we may even start seeing certain brands in the near future selling only via social platforms, which could lead the death of the e-commerce site in some verticals altogether.

2.4 Cold Turkey Attribution

In the fight for consumer consideration in highly competitive digital environments, brands tend to want to move the needle on their digital ad performance and this appetite extends across to traditional media too. Arguably this appetite for immediate results could be driven by short-termism and associated incentives (or disincentives) set for CMOs – who do often fight for a longer-term view.

Brands are expecting their digital channels to show significant impact on their longer term traditional measurement techniques (e.g. brand trackers and media mix modelling (MMM)). Put another way, they want to see the input/output relationship between spend and results (nothing’s changed there since the dawn of marketing). That relationship is found in the data, specifically attribution data.

Digitally, the shift away from last click attribution is by no means a new concept, alternative answers have been around for a good while now, including some great technologies targeted at specifically addressing this problem.

3.0 Beneficial Business

New business models emerge to stem harmful effects on culture.

3.1 Social Media Develops a Conscience

2019 is the year for accountability in social media. We at Fetch believe it will be the year that the social media platforms themselves will take more action towards behaving responsibly, whilst social influencers will start paying attention to the quality of social content they share.

As a result of well publicised fake news and election controversies in 2018, social media platforms are much more aware of the kind of impact they can have on individuals, their decision making processes and society at large. 2019 is the year that social media giants take steps to develop more responsible products.

Technology has enabled connectivity. This globalisation is the net result of the impact social media has incurred on our ability to easily connect with large audiences. With this connectivity, however, comes a new obligation to understand the additional power that our opinions and actions have on the audiences we’re given access to.

Facebook has successfully achieved its mission to ‘give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together’. Twitter’s mission statement is ‘to give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers’. Over the course of 2018, however, society has continued to witness individuals and businesses who, in the interest of monetisation, have allowed an underregulated space to become rapidly saturated with click-bait articles, falsified information and unrealistic views of society.

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In 2019 we are beginning to see signs of change. At the moment, it is just through a glimmer of hope that businesses and individuals will begin to truly understand the responsibility that comes with being connected at scale.

Platforms such as Facebook will look to tackle the News Feed, an infinite scroll of advertising opportunities, which in some cases can be misleading. For example, Instagram have introduced a scrolling deterrent, notifying the user that ‘You’re all caught up’. This is a subtle change that’s designed to discourage the perpetual mindless scroll. In fact, the perpetual scroll function was introduced in 2006 by a leading technology engineer Mr Raskin, who recently expressed his feelings of regret and malcontent about the behaviour his invention has encouraged in today’s online world.

So, what can these super platforms and other businesses do to clear their conscience and win back positive sentiment?

In 2018, Google and other tech giants, including Facebook and Twitter signed a code of conduct with the EU to tackle the spread of fake news, amidst concerns this could once again play a part in major elections in 2019. Facebook has now embraced the job of fact-checking. The social platform, along with its peers and counterparts have since debuted its third-party fact-checking program, as well as utilising Schema.org’s Claim review, an Open Source tool which it plans to continue to roll out across operating markets.

Given that it took around a decade for this issue to developed into its current state of affairs, it is only natural that it may not be immediately resolved overnight. With public interest high in trolls and fake news, it is highly likely the social network that successfully quashes this harmful phenomenon first will also win back public favour the quickest.

Whilst Facebook, alongside others, have conveyed their ambitions to counter the misinformation displayed on their feed, influencers who boast huge social media followings tend to regurgitate and share unverified information to their followers.

In 2019, we believe we will see a shift towards influencers being held more accountable for the content that they publish. Celebrity stakeholders within the health and beauty industry will be more frequently called out when promoting images which endorse unrealistic expectations or advertising messages.

For individuals who wish to thrive in social media, and for those aspiring to build a community, accountability and responsibility will be the catalyst for success.

Let’s be realistic. We cannot expect the outbreak of fake news and misinformation to simply cease. The impact of fake news and its effect on referendums and elections will remain baggage that we take into 2019 and will affect a wide range of organisations and individuals. With the European Parliament elections and other political events occurring globally in 2019, there will be further scrutiny around how online and social platforms may be (albeit unintentionally) facilitating the spread of false or biased messages.

What will ultimately matter to people is how much action is taken. Organisations like HumanTech are seeking to “realign technology with humanity’s best interest”. In the case of social media’s own conscience, many will judge these platforms on how much they improve their products to combat misinformation. This, combined with how empowered individuals hold platforms and influencers to account for the spread of fake content will ensure a higher level of trust.

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3.2 The Counter-mobile Coup

3.3 Superplatforms vs Superentertainers

3.4 The Payless Dichotomy

4.0 Tameable Technology

Developers and users favour platforms that are additive, not addictive.

4.1 Writing the AI rulebook

Artificial Intelligence is worrying a lot of people. Some believe that, gone unrestricted and without considered moderation, AI could pose problems at both technological and cultural levels. At present, there is no widely recognised AI regulation, principally because we are some way off ‘True AI’ – where machine learning exceeds the capabilities of human learning and adaptability. In this piece, we explore who might undertake the regulation of AI and whether such legislation is in fact feasible.

On Monday 26th November 2018 Chinese scientist He Jiankui announced in a video online that the first known humans had been born after they had been genetically edited as embryos.

While he hadn’t broken any international regulations, he had departed from ethical convention.

In the wake of this event there are now increased calls for a binding global code of conduct around human gene editing but it doesn’t really change the fact that these calls are being made after two twin girls have been born already.

This story closely mirrors the potential opportunities and challenges of humanity’s endeavours into developing artificial intelligence.

Whilst both endeavours could be developed for positive applications they both carry potential side effects.

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‘True AI’ is to be viewed as ‘a hypothetical machine that exhibits behaviour at least as skilful and flexible as humans do’. Scientific development in artificial intelligence is a long way off that currently. What we presently have is better characterised as ‘machine learning’, where humans programme specific inputs, how those inputs are processed and then how the output proliferates. This stage in progress is currently all very controllable and not a cause for concern.

The uncertainty factors around ‘True AI’, as opposed to Machine Learning are generally centred around:

  • When is AI advanced enough to be a problem?
  • How will we know what has been built is a problem?
  • Will we be able to control it?

The fact that True AI will instantly be able to think millions of times faster (at the very least) compared to a human takes it way beyond human capability. The problem then becomes that once you let it out the ‘box’, can you put it back in?

When Elon Musk famously talks about control and regulation around AI he rightly points out that most regulation in other industries happens after something bad happens. Once the public starts demanding change, that thing gets regulated swiftly. If an AI is created and it can’t be put back in the box, then the usual timelines for regulation would be too late.

A big part of the control debate is around what is the outcome that the AI is programmed to achieve and how could that programming lead to potentially negative outcomes for humans? It’s conceivable that an AI, when granted flexible and powerful intuition, may disagree with its programming and disobey the ‘laws’ given to it by its programmer.

Around regulation we’ve got further questions of:

  • Who should regulate it? We’ve only to observe the US Senators who failed to grasp the much simpler concept of how Facebook makes money during the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
  • What elements of ‘AI’ (if they can even be identified and articulated) should be regulated? The Google ethical template of “Don’t be Evil” mantra probably isn’t going to cut it.
  • Does any rule setting entity care enough in 2019 to do anything about it? We can’t see AI regulation moving much higher on the priority list of national regulators in 2019.

There is also too much for governments or corporations to gain in the technical developments between what we have now and True AI to put any checks and balances in place. The tech is just going to become too valuable to garner the will to regulate.

To conclude, it’s important we remember that most machine learning is improving the quality of human life in various ways – from providing a boon to business to improving humanitarian aid in developing countries. While it is currently extremely valuable, it is, like any other technology, something we should apply a code of ethics and rules to ensure its safe development. It is hard to identify who will impose such AI regulation but we do have recent precedent of legal tech reform happening at a continental level: in 2018, the EU acted by implementing GDPR to protect data privacy. So, while AI regulation poses its difficulties, it isn’t impossible. It is likely however that such governing bodies will need to be motivated by public opinion to act.

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4.2 AR improves our quality of life

4.3 The disconnected become attached to voice

4.4 Banking breaks a 4-Millenia old inertia

4.5 GDPR Heralds a New Dawn in Data Expectations