"I have tits – give me free stuff": the WTF world of elite social networking

It's a small world after all, finds Melinda Hughes.

In April 2013, A Small World, the self-styled elite social network (or "global community"), decided it was going to be a little less social by chucking out some of its members. It really was as sudden and as blunt as that; their email to the lucky few not removed said: "We have decided to terminate the accounts of anyone who undermines the unique spirit of openness that serves as the cornerstone of ASW—and sets our community apart… The reality is simply that our growth has inadvertently allowed certain members to degrade this trust, and those are the people we’re exiling, effective immediately."

An overhaul ensued and thousands of members were kicked off the site to bring numbers down to 250,000. A new "Members Privilege Programme" was introduced in May, with discounts on hotel rooms, fashionable clothes and spa treatments, a free luxury airport car service, cutting-in privileges in nightclub queues… And for the first time, there was a membership fee (£70), to pay for these discounts and freebies. A Small World wants to see the colour of its members’ money as a guarantee of interest and responsibility.

But there have been roars of discontent from those thrown off, who allege expulsion by algorithm rather than actual offence, a subversive Facebook group set up in riposte and harsh emails from A Small World’s staff churning up further ill feeling.

Core members of A Small World whose posts had been reported as abusive (whether they were or not) found themselves in social Siberia. Israel-based Uri Schneider, an active member who organised ASW parties including the Middle East Peace Party, was surprised at his expulsion.

He joked on Facebook that "if we open a group on Facebook called ASW Nostalgia it will be the last nail in ASW's coffin… Within five minutes Antoine Sorice had done just that and ASW Nostalgia was formed. Within an hour, the group had clocked up a thousand members." Schneider and Sorice, along with Alexander Schaumburg-Lippe, administer the group, whose manifesto is "Anything except politcally [sic] correct and non offensive bullshit".

This group, which now has over 1,700 members, quickly acquired a nickname. Having clearly infuriated the management of A Small World with the group, which complained about and ridiculed A Small World, Schaumburg-Lippe received a scathing email from them: "We wish you farewell. We do hope you continue to enjoy talking about ASW in a group that oozes the charm and sophistication of a hippopotamus in heat." Members of ASW Nostalgia now affectionately call each other hippos.

The Facebook site is not exactly a garden party with tea and cucumber sandwiches sans crust: it’s more like a self-help group crossed with a raucous yacht party at Cannes-time crossed with a fight club. For every video of Mohammed Ali training, there is a photo of a gleaming new Bugatti and an offensive internet meme (a woman throws her arms into the air and the text reads "I have tits – give me free stuff"). One post asks: "As aSW was not a dating site, how many members did you sleep with?"

There is also plenty of mockery of ASW. One member posted a story called "How to spot a gold digger like it’s your job’" with the note, "Added bonus with your new ASW card…". Another wrote: "Newsflash, newsflash, newsflash: ASW has about 12,000 members. You do the math ;)" referring to the initial paucity of ASW members who wanted to pay for the service.

Not all members of ASW Nostalgia are happy with this. One complained: "I think many of the things posted in ASW nostalgia are really inappropriate and does not live up to ASW standard. What happened to the real ASW?! Disappointed former member."

Pictured above: A screenshot of the ASW Nostalgia group, which now has over 1,700 members

In reply, another member wrote: "I have noticed a rythym on here..there are brilliant days when the posts are brilliant and the discussions fascinating, on those brilliant days after some hours there are usually , ahem, one or a few usual or shockingly unusual suspects who have fights, they get over it and become best friends or keep hating each other , then there are a few stupid days where people post pictures of jet bathrooms and donkeys in spanish squares, then it gets good again..just when I'm ready to sign off a great day happens..so patience.." (All sic.)

Antoine Sorice defended ("Well actually that is not quite correct, but I understand why it may appear that way. The appropriate stiuff get's deleted immediately by nostalgia's webmasters...") as did Alexander Schaumburg-Lippe ("Well, the quality waxes and wanes, and we certainly had better times in the beginning. But that was to be expected. We had an outburst of creativity for a while, and now a lot of people have fired their best shots. I'm not discontent with what we have, though"). (Again, all sic.)

What has happened, in short, with the memes, the mockery, the offence and the defence, is that ASW Nostalgia has become a lot like… ASW.

Formed in 2004 by Eric Wachtmeister, A Small World was an innovative online community. It was fun, fast-moving and in between postings such as "Who has a seat on their jet to St Tropez?" there were political threads, often controversial and provoking heated debate. On the whole, it was good, clean fun and you were only one click away from supermodels, aristocracy and celebrities. It also proved a useful tool when travelling as there were often get-togethers in cities all around the world.

However, as soon as the floodgates opened in late 2005, with ten invitations issued to each member, things quickly got swamped. Like a hot restaurant in London, the fast crowd moved on. All that was left were heavily monitored threads about watches, parties and Ferraris posted by wannabes and City traders.

Pictured above: A Small World's new registration page

By 2006 it had lost its exclusivity, but the ASW brand was nevertheless strengthening and Wachtmeister sold it to Harvey Weinstein, who recently said that it was his worst investment ever: "I managed to take a brilliant idea and turn it into a disaster. Boy did I screw that one up." In 2011, he told The Daily Beast that ‘I clearly was in way over my head" and "the other social sites kicked my butt. I sold the company for a loss to a techie who immediately improved services and has turned the company around."

That techie was Swiss entrepreneur Patrick Liotard-Vogt (a hirsute cross between Michael Bolton and Mick Hucknall), who had been chomping at the bit to gain control of ASW. The relaunch, with its new business model, has happened under his watch, and according to Steerpike in the Spectator, it is now combining philanthropy with its social hauteur: an event at the Gstaad Palace Hotel with Weinstein, Carey Mulligan and Otis Ferry raised nearly $100,000 for the Alzheimer’s Society.

As the Facebook page became more popular and more outrageous, ASW’s management became more forceful in their criticism and more enticing in their persuasion.

Serena Alvarado, ASW’s events director, emailed Uri to complain: ‘You started a hate group on the internet. As the founder of a hate group, you are responsible for the slander written of the members in this group, the sexist, disgusting comments people are posting. Hate groups are responsible for terrible crimes and tragedies in our culture. You should be ashamed of yourself. I am embarrassed for you and your wife and child. The world would be a better place without people like you spending your time and energy being nasty and hateful about other people.’

I find it surprising that ASW is quite as concerned as it is: while it’s clear that they don’t want their brand tarnished by association, ASW Nostalgia is only a chat forum with intermittent member meet-ups – the proper ASW offers global networking parties, large scale events, an online magazine and exclusive ties to luxury marketing, as well as the new benefits.

Pictured above: One of the images a Hippo posted on the Facebook group

Then, according to Uri Schneider, the new CEO of ASW, Sabine Heller, called him to complain and cajole. Heller, Schneider posted in the group, ‘demanded that we change the [group’s] name or shut it down – calling it trademark infringement etc’. She also conceded, he says, that an ‘algorithmic mistake’ could have led to blameless members being expelled and would accept people back ‘based on our recommendations of who is worthy’. And most placatingly, ‘She offered me an official ASW “events ambassador” title or something among these lines. :) As if I'm not busy enough with this group already ;)’.

There followed over 1,100 responses to Schneider’s post, a mixture of disbelief and annoyance at having been thrown out of ASW tout court, insults aimed at Heller and glee at the trouble caused by ASW Nostalgia. The hippos were enjoying muddying the water too much: the group continues in full spate.

Meanwhile, a new exclusive online community has been launched by Erik Wachtmeister, the founder of ASW. Best of All Worlds, whose homepage doesn’t even hint at what it might be or how you can join, wants to ‘empower global social discovery within an intimate and trusted community. Not endless online noise. Discover people, common passions, and compelling information for tomorrow, not yesterday, in worlds of shared interests and friends.’ BOAW aims ‘to return relevance, trust, and usefulness to the online world’.

Pictured above: The landing page for Best of All Worlds

Wachtmeister, learning from ASW’s mistakes, scored a minor coup sure to enrage his old site and delight the Hippos: he has offered them their own forum and membership of BOAW with no boundaries on expression. (He may come to regret this, given the muck chucked about in ASW Nostalgia.)

So what of the original exclusive social network? Well, with its new charge it’s no longer really a social network at all: ASW has mutated into a global concierge service with social benefits which might give Quintessentially a run for its money. The field of concierge service: now that’s a small world.

This piece was written by Melinda Hughes

It first appeared on economia.

A screenshot from A Small World's website. Photograph: Getty Images

This is a story from the team at Spears magazine.

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If there’s no booze or naked women, what’s the point of being a footballer?

Peter Crouch came out with one of the wittiest football lines. When asked what he thought he would have been but for football, he replied: “A virgin.”

At a professional league ground near you, the following conversation will be taking place. After an excellent morning training session, in which the players all worked hard, and didn’t wind up the assistant coach they all hate, or cut the crotch out of the new trousers belonging to the reserve goalie, the captain or some senior player will go into the manager’s office.

“Hi, gaffer. Just thought I’d let you know that we’ve booked the Salvation Hall. They’ll leave the table-tennis tables in place, so we’ll probably have a few games, as it’s the players’ Christmas party, OK?”

“FECKING CHRISTMAS PARTY!? I TOLD YOU NO CHRISTMAS PARTIES THIS YEAR. NOT AFTER LAST YEAR. GERROUT . . .”

So the captain has to cancel the booking – which was actually at the Salvation Go Go Gentlemen’s Club on the high street, plus the Saucy Sporty Strippers, who specialise in naked table tennis.

One of the attractions for youths, when they dream of being a footballer or a pop star, is not just imagining themselves number one in the Prem or number one in the hit parade, but all the girls who’ll be clambering for them. Young, thrusting politicians have similar fantasies. Alas, it doesn’t always work out.

Today, we have all these foreign managers and foreign players coming here, not pinching our women (they’re too busy for that), but bringing foreign customs about diet and drink and no sex at half-time. Rotters, ruining the simple pleasures of our brave British lads which they’ve enjoyed for over a century.

The tabloids recently went all pious when poor old Wayne Rooney was seen standing around drinking till the early hours at the England team hotel after their win over Scotland. He’d apparently been invited to a wedding that happened to be going on there. What I can’t understand is: why join a wedding party for total strangers? Nothing more boring than someone else’s wedding. Why didn’t he stay in the bar and get smashed?

Even odder was the behaviour of two other England stars, Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson. They made a 220-mile round trip from their hotel in Hertfordshire to visit a strip club, For Your Eyes Only, in Bournemouth. Bournemouth! Don’t they have naked women in Herts? I thought one of the points of having all these millions – and a vast office staff employed by your agent – is that anything you want gets fixed for you. Why couldn’t dancing girls have been shuttled into another hotel down the road? Or even to the lads’ own hotel, dressed as French maids?

In the years when I travelled with the Spurs team, it was quite common in provincial towns, after a Saturday game, for players to pick up girls at a local club and share them out.

Like top pop stars, top clubs have fixers who can sort out most problems, and pleasures, as well as smart solicitors and willing police superintendents to clear up the mess afterwards.

The England players had a night off, so they weren’t breaking any rules, even though they were going to play Spain 48 hours later. It sounds like off-the-cuff, spontaneous, home-made fun. In Wayne’s case, he probably thought he was doing good, being approachable, as England captain.

Quite why the other two went to Bournemouth was eventually revealed by one of the tabloids. It is Lallana’s home town. He obviously said to Jordan Henderson, “Hey Hendo, I know a cool club. They always look after me. Quick, jump into my Bentley . . .”

They spent only two hours at the club. Henderson drank water. Lallana had a beer. Don’t call that much of a night out.

In the days of Jimmy Greaves, Tony Adams, Roy Keane, or Gazza in his pomp, they’d have been paralytic. It was common for players to arrive for training still drunk, not having been to bed.

Peter Crouch, the former England player, 6ft 7in, now on the fringes at Stoke, came out with one of the wittiest football lines. When asked what he thought he would have been but for football, he replied: “A virgin.”

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage