Borkowski Weekly Media Trends 09-04-21

Khloe Kardashian | NYT x Science FACT | YouTube vs YG | Clubhouse's Tricky 2nd Act

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Khloe Kardashian & The Media’s Image Problem

Khloe, the latest Kardashian in the eye of a never-ending storm: the debate around fame, authenticity and body image. Do celebrities under the magnifying glass have the right to have surgery? To filter their photos? To lie to their followers about what is real and what’s not? The Kardashians may have immense wealth and influence (and, arguably, responsibility to match) but they are also victims of a system that places unrelenting pressure on them to present as physically perfect all the time.

The photo that was leaked of Khloe Kardashian last week (showing her, unfiltered, in a bikini), the Kardashian’s frantic attempts to wipe all record of it, and Khloe’s subsequent statement (an Instagram post including (ostensibly) unfiltered videos of her body, and a heartfelt message denying surgery and describing her experience of constant public scrutiny) provides plenty of materials for these debates. But it is also an interesting case study in the Streisand effect. That is, what would have happened if no attempts were made to remove the initial leaked photo?

The irony is that the leaked image was flattering. It showed a body hardly discernible from the one posted by Khloe on her social media. Eagle-eyed social media users would say it highlighted how Khloe uses photoshop to exaggerate her physique in her published photos. But haters gonna hate. Or rather, trolls gonna troll. What’s for sure, legal moves to stop the sharing of it only acted as proof of some wrongdoing on the Kardashian’s end. Yet, if she had let the photo stay online, she would have been at the mercy of the headlines. There is one parallel universe in which the tabloids would praise the image, saying it shows Khloes natural beauty, but there are several (more likely) alternatives in which commentators tear Khloe down yet again, claim the leak as proof of Khloe’s photoshopping, or surgery, or unattractiveness.

The Streisand effect is undoubtedly at play here. There is no way the story would have made it into this many peoples consciousnesses, if the Kardashians hadn’t reacted the way they did. But perhaps having the story catapulted onto everyone’s news feeds was the sacrifice Khloe had to make in order to claim her narrative. The only alternative would be to submit to the tabloids, submit to the trolls, let them say whatever they want. Maybe people don’t believe Khloe’s statement, but this shows that, at the end of it all, someone’s right to have a voice is even more valuable than their reputation. Maybe Khloe would rather dig her own grave than have someone else dig it for her.

Stick to the Science

Clicks will come to those who write factually—especially when the facts are stranger than fiction. That’s why an article from the New York Times science section went viral this week, thanks to its fact-based, clear-eyed reporting on the latest from the Fermi Particle Accelerator. And the news really is astounding, even to lay comms people like us—if confirmed, the discovery heralds a new understanding of the fabric of our reality. We have enough misinformation out there—so it’s good to see the NYTimes rewarded for their non-sensationalist take on muons.

With such good reporting rewarded in publications like the (very much not-failing) New York Times, it’s disappointing to see pictures of Little Green Men as headline images elsewhere. So passé, especially when we have great, science-driven accounts of what alien life forms would look like based on what we know about zoology on earth. (Spoiler alert: it ain’t gonna be bipedal.) The likelier possibility: floating octopi, communicating with electric charges, is all so much more interesting than the X-files version. Why not report that?

It ties in to a larger point, made recently by Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb about the way science-fiction does a disservice to science-facts, which can be easily as incredible. Film and TV, he argues, have given us an image of extra-terrestrial life, who, unlike us earthlings, have mastered the laws of physics and arrive in pointy UFOs at faster-than-light-speed. This expectation makes it really hard to see the real breakthroughs when they come in less sensational forms, but, if you read the New York Times article, you’ll see, we really are making strides forward. (Strides that maybe the aliens—since they are probably tentacular—haven’t.)

YouTube vs YG

US rapper YG has come under fire over some lyrics on his 2014 song ‘Meet The Flockers’, in which he recommends targeting Chinese neighbourhoods when planning a home invasion because they don’t believe in bank accounts…

This has prompted discussion around tech giants’ responsibility to censor harmful material and what violates these companies’ hate speech policies, especially after YouTube refused to ban the music video despite acknowledging the song is “highly offensive” and “painful for many to watch”. According to YouTube, they make exceptions for clips that have an “Educational, Documentary, Scientific or Artistic (EDSA) context”, and doubling down explaining that removing ‘Meet The Flockers’ may lead to the company having to remove a lot of other music on the platform.

Quite a jarring response when you consider that the video flagrantly violates YouTube’s hate speech policies and music is a major revenue stream due to ad revenue, including YG’s material.

YouTube’s actions came back to bite them after YG’s record label pulled the track from all streaming platforms, removing the lyric that targets Asian communities. As we all know, FAANG have the resources and the ability to review harmful content in a fair and nuanced way but would never willingly resource such an operation. They may hide behind a self-proclaimed veil of artistic integrity, but it always comes down to profits and as long as they can get away with it, they will.

Clubhouse finding its space crowded as giants queue up

Clubhouse, the invite-only live audio app, basked in a cacophony of fanfare as it launched in late 2020. Its perceived exclusivity, air of mystery, celebrity endorsements and, let’s face it, COVID-friendliness all led to a spate of sign-ups.

A couple of business quarters later Clubhouse is seemingly thriving. But in reality, it’s entering ‘tricky second album’ territory. There’s a grace period for teething problems on any new media platform – if anything they add to the feeling of being an early adopter- but Clubhouse is walking several fine lines.

Firstly the big sharks are circling: Twitter (amid rumours of a failed takeover), LinkedIn and most recently Spotify are all exploring rival offerings. Media platforms are tricky IP-wise, most platforms in terms of their technology and capabilities are more of a repackaging of an existing offering than something radically new so it’s hard to prevent rip-offs. Look at how Instagram stories bodyslammed Snapchat.

There’s not a lot Clubhouse can do to prevent rival offerings, but there are also holes in its strategy. The biggest and smartest ‘Club’ owners have already commodified and commercialised their Clubs, and brands are starting to buy into these new products as part of their marketing and comms operations. This is because a lot of Clubhouse’s best content is based around business and entrepreneurship, and deep dives into certain industries. Its format also lends itself particularly well to those discussions. And yet, according to those in the know, Clubhouse are reluctant to pile their (limited) resources into developing this element of the platform due to a strategy that prioritises lifestyle, entertainment and music.

That’s a problem. Putting to one side more music-friendly rival platforms - in terms of UX and audience - such as TikTok, if Clubhouse is a stick of dynamite, then the NFT boom and rush to create platforms to exploit it (including in the burgeoning ‘Metaverse’ market) could potentially be measured in megatons. Especially when it comes to its potential impact on the music industry. Put simply, Clubhouse has even more potent rivals than the social media giants when it comes to becoming the next big platform for music and entertainment media.

If Clubhouse doesn’t start playing to its strengths, the big predators circling it could be picking its remains clean sooner than we think.