Over Bike-Share Schemes, The Wall Street Journal Loses the Plot

“Do not ask me to enter the mind of the totalitarians running this government.”

Following London, Paris, Montreal, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Brussels, and many, many more cities worldwide, New York City has just launched its own bikeshare program, sponsored by Citibank. The reaction to the launch has been slightly more hysterical in that city than it was in others, though. Driven by a combination of things – New York's general cycle-unfriendliness, the belief that it is a pet project of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and the American right's depressing knee-jerk hatred of anything dubbed "environmental" – opposition to the "citibikes" has become untethered from reality and floated off into its own pocket universe. I present exhibit A, a Wall Street Journal opinion video on the topic, title "Death by Bicycle":

That's Dorothy Rabinowitz, who sits on the Wall Street Journal's editorial board, saying, with a straight face, that

Before this, every citizen knew, who was in any way sentient, that the most important danger in the city is not the yellow cabs. It is the bicyclists.

And that:

The bike lobby is an all-powerful enterprise.

And that:

Some enterprising new mayor [should undo Bloomberg's changes] and preserve our traffic patterns.

Perhaps most amazingly, she goes on a long spiel about how Taxi Drivers have signs in their cabs warning them to watch out for bikes, and complains that nobody tells cyclists the same thing, which does nothing but demonstrate that she hasn't actually seen the bikes:

The video is so unhinged that it's actually starting to reflect upon the publication itself. Rabinowitz herself is high up at the paper, and as the Atlantic's James Fallows writes:

I've always wondered how exactly to describe the temperament, the broadmindedness, the analytical subtlety, the Id that through the decades have shaped the Wall Street Journal's editorial page. Conveniently, the Journal has filled that need, via this video interview with one of its editorial board members. Henceforth when you read the Journal's editorials, I invite you to hear this voice, expression, and tone.

The Washington Post's Ezra Klein, meanwhile, says that the Journal "just ate the Onion’s lunch", while Reuters' Felix Salmon merely picks a few choice quotes to present "without comment".

In short, if high-up members of your paper's editorial board approach a bike sharing scheme as though someone had proposed to shoot their, and everyone else's, puppy, try and keep them off-camera. It only ends badly.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Coders for Corbyn
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Can emojis win elections?

Jeremy Corbyn has claimed his campaign's use of technology would be the "path to victory" in 2020. But can emojis play a meaningful part? 

When photographic campaign badges were first unleashed in 1860, a Facebook commenter posted on Abraham Lincoln’s wall: “What is this? Today’s youth are doomed” and then, a moment later, “You call this news?”*

It might be tempting to react in a similar way to the fact that Jeremy Corbyn emoji – or rather, Jeremoji – are now a thing. Small digital stickers of the flat-capped Labour leader expressing joy and sadness might seem like the End Of Serious Political Campaigning As We Know It, but are they really that different from the multitude of deft and daft political campaign buttons throughout history?

Well, yes. Because there will be a marrow.

Beyond the marrow, however, Jeremoji aren’t actually that revolutionary. Before Kim Kardashian crashed the App Store with the 9,000 downloads a second of her Kimoji in December 2015, we here at the New Statesman created a much-needed Yvette Cooper emoji. Around the same time, Bernie Sanders supporters released BerniemojiThe slightly-less pleasing to the ear Hillarymoji were also unveiled by Hillary Clinton campaigners two months ago, though none of these apps were officially endorsed by their respective candidates.

“We’re not affiliated, we’re totally independent,” says Gregory Dash from Coders for Corbyn, the group behind Jeremoji, and a wider online volunteer toolkit for Corbyn supporters. “A lot of us have social links with the campaign and we ran ideas past them and got feedback but as an organisation we’re totally independent and all volunteers.”

Dash reveals that a variety of professional and amateur artists contributed to the emoji and that unfortunately, as the marrow design is currently being finalised, it won’t be in the first version of the app. Once the app has been approved by Google Play and the App Store, it should be available to the public in the coming weeks.

“Mainly they’re just fun but we’re also hoping we’ll be able to communicate some of the main message of Jeremy’s campaign,” says Dash.

But are Dash and other developers misguided in their attempts to promote sexagenarian politicians via a communication tool favoured by teens? Hillary Clinton has already been mocked for her attempts to capture the youth vote via memes, and has proven on multiple occasions that trying to be “down with the kids” can backfire. Corbyn’s own digital manifesto was met with scorn by some yesterday.

“To be very honest, the emojis are pretty cringy,” says Max Rutter, a 17-year-old from Oxford. “I know that they are targeted towards teens but politics isn't something most teens talk about on social media, and these emojis could only be used in a political conversation. Corbyn doesn't need emojis to get teens on his side, he just needs to stick to his guns and keep telling it like it is.”

A 2013 London School of Economics study on Youth Participation In Democratic Life supports Max’s assertions. The final report found that although in theory young people wanted politicians to use social media more, in practice it led to more negative perceptions of politicians and “an increased perception of the gap between political elites and the young.” Moreover, teens exposed to a social media campaign were less likely to vote than those who only received political flyers.

Jeremoji, then, may not ultimately capture the youth vote, and nor are they likely to make lifelong Conservatives pause and say, “On second thoughts, yes. This Corbyn chap is the man for me.” So what will they achieve?

“We’re hoping to do some emojis around Corbyn’s ten pledges and allow people to share them that way,” says Dash. The app already contains emojis affiliated with the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, a society seeking justice for miners after the Battle of Orgreave in June 1984. Dash also hopes to get emojis supporting the No More Blacklisting campaign and Save Our Steel.

“We want to have it so you go to the Orgreave campaign and you click the emoji and it will give you a little bit of information about the campaign as well,” Dash says. “Emojis then become a tool to communicate all these different campaigns that are going on. There are amazing things going on that the wider Labour membership may not know about.”

Coders for Corbyn seek the approval of each of these campaigns before creating the emoji, as they don’t want to seem as if they’re exploiting campaigns to make themselves look better “like Owen Smith did”. But despite their current affiliation with Corbyn, the group plan to rebrand as Coders for Labour after the leadership election.

“I’m not sure there would be the same demand for Owen Smith emojis, but we'd definitely still be producing Labour themed emojis for people to use,” says Dash, when I ask what he’d do if Smith won.

Dash tells me when iOS10 launches in the autumn, emojis will be available at three times their current size, and will be more like stickers. This means they can communicate complicated messages from various campaigns, and may also lose any potential stigma associated with the word “emoji”. In the late 20th century, campaign buttons like Lincoln’s were replaced by cheaper disposable label stickers. It makes sense for these in turn to be replaced by digital stickers. Even if emoji can’t win elections, they may still prove powerful in raising awareness.

The UK’s currently most used emoji is the despairing crying face. Personally, I see no problem with it becoming a marrow.

*May not strictly be true 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.