Public, private and social institutions, supported and assisted by our colleagues around the world, are having an increasingly hard time in coping with the fact that even if and when they succeed in controlling mainstream media (a daring task in many countries), there is little they can do to control social media. The most they can do is to monitor them and, avoiding those typical and traditional knee jerk reactions which are so evident in some recent cases (see recent post on Edelman, for example), engage in them. As much as this may seem obvious, one recent case I posted the other day, is very telling.
In an official statement by the Public Relations Department of the Presidential Office of the Government of Iran one may read (see original in recent post on this blog):
Thanks to God’s blessing, the pleasant climate of freedom, free flow of information and exchanges of opinion that exists in the Islamic Republic, which is one of the major achievements of the great Islamic revolution and the noble people of Iran, warrants everyone today to safeguard this divine gift. The government, too, as the guardian and heir of the lofty aspirations of our great nation, considers itself dutybound to foster a climate of harmony and sincere exchanges of opinion. Nevertheless, at times one observes that certain news and non-news websites, contrary to the Iranian nation’s general culture, fail to observe piety, ethical norms and Islamic manners. And even more regrettably, some of them behave as though they are either government supporters or enjoy government support. The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran while announcing its disavowal of any unlawful and unethical conduct, invites all people to help foster a fraternal and friendly atmosphere, and rational debate. It hopes that thanks to observance of principles by all those who support the country’s progress, there would be no need for intervention by responsible organs for defending the rights of citizens.
No professionals more than those who operate in public relations are capable of reading behind the lines of such statements, and this for the obvious reason that it is mostly they who devise and write them… Basically our colleagues from the Presidential office issue a public warning that the Iranian government will intervene if ‘certain news and non news websites fail to observe piety, ethical norms and Islamic manners’. So what else is new? This is certainly not the first time that anti government websites are menaced. This happens in all nations (some more, some less..of course and one may legitimately imagine that Iran has more problems with this than others). What however is very revealing is the sentence:
‘And even more regrettably, some of them behave as though they are either government supporters or enjoy government support’. This, instead, is new! Or is it, really?
Our colleagues of the Iranian Presidency must be so used to controlling mainstream media that they feel the need not only to discourage adversaries by threatening censure, but to issue the same warning ‘even more regrettably’ to favorable sites. I guess they are so convinced that there is such a widespread notion that anything in favor of the government could only enjoy government support, that they prefer to publicly dissociate their responsibilities from pro government zealots!
My life companion, Simona Colarizi, a reputed Italian contemporary historian -scholar of Italian fascism, socialism and post war party system- wrote in the mid eighties a fascinating book: ‘L’opinione degli italiani durante il Fascismo’ (laterza editore), the result of an intensive and methodologically innovative study of classified reports which Mussolini’s political analysts received day after day in the twenty years of his regime from the various tens of thousands of undercover informers from all walks of life. Nothing of course like the sophistication of today’s Echelon, White House or other Government or Company originated interception and eavesdropping systems which today exist in all countries and many companies, but still a richly elaborated and conceptualized network of day-to-day information gathering and reporting of the moods, thoughts, gripes and wishes of normal citizens.
The political analysts who would submit a daily highly classified report to Mussolini on the ‘opinion of the Italians’, called the members of those networks ‘tarocchisti’ (tarotists): a truly amazing case, because it was only in the early eighties that my good friend Geoffrey Morris, the highly respected social and organizational analyst who with Jan Dauman, Tim Traverse Healy and yours truly, founded Matrix -the first consultancy to develop and offer issue management systems to major corporations in the late seventies (IBM, Philip Morris, American Express, BP and BT were their major clients)- had developed the TAROT qualitative research methodology (Trend Analysis by Relative Opinion Testing). You can imagine the reciprocal surprise when Simona and Geoffrey first met at the Serpentine Gallery in London years later and discovered this striking coincidence!
In her book, Simona writes that Mussolini was more irritated by what he considered the stupidity of his followers than the criticisms of his adversaries. He considered that any praise would have been viewed as directly inspired by him, and this embarrassed him considerably… not because he didn’t enjoy being praised (vanity was only one of the more pronounced traits of his personality) but mostly because he could not be in total control of the public discourse, both in positive and in negative. And this frustrated and complicated his efforts to thematise and create consensus on the issues he really cared about.