Saturday, November 8, 2014


Gil Scott-Heron may have told us that the revolution will not be televised, but he didn’t say anything about social media.

On the morning of October 26, 2104 Alex Christopher LaBeouf, a normal, good looking sixteen year old living in Dallas went to work at his part time job at the local Target store. Like most teenagers his age he participated in social media, but his engagement was unremarkable. In fact, he had less than 150 followers on Twitter.

That afternoon, a fifteen year old girl named Brooklyn Reiff took a picture of Alex and tweeted it to her friend Alanna because Alanna had told her that Alex was cute. Then she forgot all about it, and him, unaware of the internet tsunami she had just unleashed.

Nothing much happened for a few days.  And then a teenager in the U.K. with the twitter handle @auscalum, who presumably thought the boy was cute and who was very actively engaged in social media, retweeted the photo. And all hell broke loose.

Instantly the photo went viral. The hashtag #AlexFromTarget trended through the roof. Alex’s own twitter followers grew from 144 to more than 600,000 almost overnight. Alex was invited to go on the Ellen DeGeneres show where he told Ellen, among other things, that he had received several marriage proposals.

That’s all good fun, right? You be the judge.

The folks at Target denied having anything to do with the viral meme. Yet recognizing a native integration opportunity when they saw one, themselves started tweeting about Alex and the #AlexFromTarget craze.

Bags of Bliss, an Australian manufacturer of pre-packaged maternity gift bags, has a Twitter handle almost identical to Alex’s handle. After gamely posting several times that they were not #AlexFromTarget they figured if you can’t beat’em join ‘em, and started advertising their product to a suddenly expanded customer base. 

An unknown social media marketing company called Breakr made the unlikely claim that they had orchestrated the entire thing to show brands and potential clients the commercial power of Fangirls.  When Alex, the girls who had originally tweeted the photo, and even Target denied any knowledge of Breakr the company backpedalled, leaving them with a black eye and the specter of dishonesty.

@auscalum, the young woman whose retweet started the avalanche, got so much hate content on her Twitter feed, including death threats (!?), that she temporarily shut down her Twitter account. Ironically, @auscalum reactivated her account to deny that she knew or had anything to do with Breakr.

A number of fake Alex accounts sprang up, the most egregious being one that created the handle @acl164 (Alex uses the handle @acl163) and started aggressively procuring follows and engagement from teen girls. Whether that user is a teenage boy, a pedophile, or something else remains unknown.

And what of the fate of young Alex LaBeouf?  Well, the jury’s still out. He’s still working at Target. He’s still posting normal tweets, albeit now to a whole lot more people. He still seems close with his family. But will his inadvertent celebrity help or hurt his development as a young adult?  Target will profit from all this free press, but will brands embrace Alex to endorse their products, or will he slink back into obscurity when his fifteen minutes (or fifteen seconds) of fame are up? 

Only time will tell. But the lesson of #AlexFromTarget is that the unintended consequences that can spring from social media should make us all tread very carefully as we are drawn to its siren song.

Friday, October 31, 2014


Men are simple creatures. 

What man hasn’t played Russian Roulette at least once in his life for the sake of love or lust? Well, hopefully very few of us have actually put a bullet in a revolver, spun the chamber, put the gun to our head and pulled the trigger. Yet we’ve all done things to impress a lover that are so irrational and have such unnecessary downside, that in the absence of pheromones we’d never dream of doing them.

I’ve been riveted by the reckless selfishness of Kaci Hickox which has been playing out in the media. Ms. Hickox is the nurse who returned to the U.S. from treating Ebola patients in West Africa and is now flaunting her unwillingness to be quarantined during what we believe to be the virus’ incubation period.  I’ve also been riveted by the plight of her boyfriend Ted Wilbur, who despite all logic and any instinct for self preservation, has been cavorting around the state of Maine with Ms. Hickox.

I genuinely feel badly for Mr. Wilbur, who has found himself with a terrible dilemma. On the one hand he wants to be supportive of his girlfriend. From what one reads on the news Ms. Hickox is very strong willed (read: nuts). Shes likely being very vocal with Mr. Wilbur that if he loves her he needs support her as she experiences her fifteen minutes of fame as the potential Typhoid Mary of the 21st century. She’s probably telling him that if he’s not at her side then he, like the rest of the world, must be against her and doesn’t deserve her.

On the other hand, Mr. Wilbur knows that his girlfriend might have EBOLA!! Not a cold. Not the flu. Not even chicken pox.  EBOLA!! He knows that if she ends up having the virus, since he’s in close contact with her (read into that what you will), he is very likely to contract it himself.  So what’s a lover to do?

Ms. Hickox went to Africa to treat Ebola patients, which signals that she must have some general empathy for humanity as a whole. One would have hoped that she would also have had some concern for the emotional and physical well being of the man she apparently loves. After all the quarantine is 21 days, not 21 years.

But alas, it didn’t go down that way for Mr. Wilbur and thats where the pheromones kick in. So he's convinced himself that it’ll probably be okay, that Ms. Hickox probably doesn’t have Ebola, that if she has Ebola he probably won’t get it from her, and that even if he does, not everyone dies from it. 

I watch Mr. Wilbur put the bullet in the chamber and spin it, and as he points the gun at his own head I marvel again at the notion that love, and lust, are blind and illogical. 

In this case, hopefully it's Ebola free as well.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


When the recent letter exchange between a young woman looking to marry and the response from a guy who’d read her post on Craigslist first hit social media, I thought the whole thing was a hoax and didn’t pay much attention to it.

In her letter, the woman claims to be beautiful, classy and articulate. She asks straightforwardly how she can go about meeting men who make $500,000 or more per year who might be potential marriage partners.  In his response, the guy tears her to shreds for her request.

As her letter and his response continued to go viral, I started to get intrigued.  What caught my interest wasn’t so much that the exchange had gone viral, but rather that both men and women were almost universally cheering the guy’s pistol whipping of the young woman.  

What if the whole thing wasn’t a hoax? As the father of three daughters myself, the young woman’s letter struck me as sad, yet weirdly innocent and heartfelt. She acknowledges that what she is asking will sound superficial. She wonders aloud what she may be doing wrong, and she talks about her ability to “keep a nice home and hearth”.  Based on her letter, she sounds like she's from relatively humble beginnings, probably not very well traveled or exposed to the world, and unclear on how to better her circumstances by using whatever assets she believes her upbringing or genetics may have given her.

The guy’s response is of a different kind altogether. The thrust of it, which in stark contrast to the tone of her letter is malevolent in the extreme, is that her beauty will fade and that as a result he is unwilling to buy (read marry) her but is willing to lease (read use) her until her beauty is gone.  He goes to unusually great lengths to underscore that he is the sort of man she seeks.  He talks about making more than $500,000 per year.  He insists that his net worth will continue to rise. He assures her he’s not “wasting her time”. He drops financial terms like “pump and dump” and “efficient markets” to prove his financial street cred, although he uses terms in such a clunky and rudimentary manner that I started to think he wasn’t an investment banker at all, but rather some guy who googled the phrase “is it better to buy a car or lease one” to pick up some financial terminology.

Maybe he is who he says he is.  For his sake I hope so, because his venom and vitriol makes me suspect that he hasn’t had success with women, especially beautiful ones.  And with his personality he’ll need every dollar he can make to find a woman who’ll tolerate him. The good news for this young woman is that he reveals himself to be the ultimate tool, so she can cross him off her list.

Which ultimately brings me to efficient markets, the concept with which he verbally rapes her. And since this guy’s social media cheerleaders haven’t asked the question, I will.

Why was this self-proclaimed rich and powerful investment banker trolling the Craigslist personals to begin with?

Thursday, October 2, 2014


The resignation this week of Julia Pierson, the director of the U.S. Secret Service, was inevitable for all the wrong reasons.

It’s certainly puzzling and distressing that a man armed with a knife could get deep into the White House, arguably the most fiercely protected location on the planet, and almost gain access to the President’s private residence before being apprehended and subdued.

The intrusion could easily have been catastrophic, and it appears that virtually every protocol failed miserably. Not incidentally, there have been other Secret Service failures during Ms. Pierson’s tenure. None of that is good.

It may well be that Ms. Pierson is indeed the wrong person to oversee the Secret Service.  Maybe she doesn’t have the vision to lead that agency, and she understandably lost the confidence of the President. But that’s not why she lost her job.  Ms. Pierson’s ouster was the result of the confluence of two factors completely unrelated to the security of the President and his family.

The first of these is that Ms. Pierson’s testimony might well be the worst performance by a politico on television since Richard Nixon’s sweaty lipped, shifty eyed performance in the 1960 debate against John F. Kennedy cost him the presidency.

Unlike Nixon in that debate though, these days even the most novice politician knows only too well that one’s appearance, attitude and other elements of visual storytelling have as much or more impact than the substance of what is being said.

So how did Ms. Pierson fail so miserably when it came time for her close up? Her general body language was defensive and her forearms held the table in front of her as if she were literally bracing for physical blows. Her facial expressions were tight and concealing, which underlined her stonewalling remarks. She responded to questions like a beat cop filling out reports rather than like the person running the organization charged with protecting the President of the United States.  In short, the optics were just plain awful.

It’s hard to imagine that she would not have rehearsed for what she must have known would be a widely viewed potential skewering. It’s even harder to imagine she would not have consulted with media experts about how to frame her testimony.  And if she did, well….

The other factor that led to her ouster was more nefarious.  Members of congress cut short a congressional recess to stage this televised lynching.  They didn’t cut short a recess to address world hunger, or the crisis in the Middle East, or even the Ebola problem now threatening to enter the U.S. (memo to the director of the CDC: start prepping for your congressional hearing).  No, they cut short their vacations because they smelled blood in the water. 

By crucifying Ms. Pierson on television, congress members on both sides of the aisle could look tough and righteous to their constituents without having to take any real stand.  And unlike Ms. Pierson, they understand the importance of putting on a good show.

Ironically, if during the hearings Ms. Pierson had manifested the same passionate outrage about recent events as the congressional panel, or if she possessed even half their media savvy, she might still be in her job today.

Saturday, September 20, 2014


Hope Solo’s days in goal for the U.S. Women’s National Team are numbered.

I admit in the interest of transparency that I’m a huge fan of hers.  I admire her prodigious talent, her take-no-prisoners attitude and outspoken nature, her commitment to excellence, her work ethic, and everything else that has led her to become the best female goalkeeper in the world.  I would be proud to see my three daughters emulate her in all those ways as they go through life.  And yes, I also admit I was horrified when I read she had been arrested on a domestic violence charge.

I volunteered for several years at the Domestic Violence Project at the L.A. Courthouse. My job was to prepare emergency relief petitions for victims of domestic abuse.  The brutality I saw there was horrific, and it wasn’t limited to violence by men against women. Solo gets no free pass from me for being female.

I’m a fan of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson on the field too, and yet I was still outraged that it took TMZ and a huge public outcry for the NFL to pull their ticket. As the media crusade against Solo continues to intensify, I worry that U.S. Soccer will succumb to public opinion and terminate her for the wrong reasons.

The facts surrounding Rice and Peterson are drastically different from those surrounding Solo.  From the very beginning, Rice admitted to cold-cocking his (now) wife, and even the NFL admits to seeing the tape of him dragging her, unconscious, out of an elevator.  Peterson openly admits to beating his child with a switch.

So what are the facts surrounding Solo’s arrest? The police answered a disturbance call to a house belonging to Solo’s sister. Solo had apparently been drinking.  So, apparently, had Solo’s sister and nephew. Solo claims she exchanged heated words with her sister and nephew, that they attacked her, and that she defended herself. Solo’s sister and nephew claim they and Solo exchanged heated words, that Solo attacked them, and that they defended themselves. Hmmn. 

Solo’s sister appeared visibly injured when the police arrived and Solo did not. That doesn’t tell us Solo was the aggressor though. It simply reminds us of a basic human truth: if you engage in a physical altercation with a world-class athlete you’re the one likely to get hurt.

U. S. Soccer has been protecting Solo since her arrest for the same wrong reason that the NFL tried to sweep the Rice matter under the rug. Solo has been good for business.  She’s at the top of her game, she’s the most recognizable face in women’s soccer, and she just set a record for the most shutouts ever by a goalkeeper.  For a league desperately trying to gain a foothold into the American money machine, that’s no small thing.

At the very least, Solo is guilty of extraordinarily bad judgment. If indeed the evidence ends up showing that she’s also guilty of domestic violence, then she should go.  Until then, while Solo proclaims her innocence in a case that seems fuzzy at best, the league should protect her.

Not because she’s good for business, but because her getting swept away in the avalanche of political correctness starts to feel like McCarthyism, where the accusation itself is enough to ruin your life and the media and others rush to convict and execute you lest they themselves be accused of not joining the crusade.  

As my mother used to say, there but for the grace of God go all of us.

I hope U.S. Soccer has the stomach and the heart to let the facts come to light before they act.