Hearts and minds: one of the images tweeted in response to the #MyNYPD campaign. Photo: Twitter
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Not what they had in mind: when Twitter campaigns backfire

The NYPD’s calls for the public to tweet photos of them with officers has gone spectacularly wrong, with a torrent of photos of police brutality. But they are far from alone.

Yesterday the New York Police Department invited citizens to post photographs of themselves with police officers using the hashtag #myNYPD. Perhaps inevitably they were not inundated with photos of grinning kids slurping sodas on brownstone steps posing with their friendly neighbourhood cops but a whole torrent of images of police brutality. In answer to the NYPD’s initial tweet “Do you have a photo w/a member of the NYPD? Tweet us & tag it”, the Occupy Wall Street account tweeted a photo of protesters and cops fighting, with the caption “changing hearts and minds one baton at a time”. Many more similar uncosy images followed.

Within a few hours, over on the West Coast, the copycat #myLAPD  had also started up, full of similarly non-heartwarming images of Los Angeles officers not posing with sun-visor-toting snowbird grandmas...

The misguided callout is just the latest in a long line of Twitter awkwardness that could come direct from the minds of Armando Iannuci or John Morton. Here a few other famous fails:

1) Waitrose

In September 2012 the super(up)market Waitrose exhorted shoppers to “Finish the sentence: “I shop at Waitrose because _________ #WaitroseReasons.” In reference to its reputation as the grocer of choice of the Ottelenghi classes, many of the spoof tweets it got back were perhaps not what it had in mind. Though it’s possible they were in on the joke all along, later writing: “Thanks again for all the #waitrosereasons tweets. We really did enjoy the genuine and funny replies. Thanks for making us smile.”

And so on...

 

2) McDonald's

Earlier the same year, hamburger behemoth McDonald’s had cheerily encouraged diners to tweet their #McDstories. On January 18, the chain sent out two tweets with the hashtag, in an attempt to highlight the "hard-working people" who provide McDonald's with their food. Sadly the McFlurry of anecdotes sent their way were not exactly along the line of “That time I had my party in Mickey D’s and Ronald McDonald came by – awesome!!” or “I *heart* Filet-O-Fish”. They soon pulled the campaign.

 

3) Home Office

More sinisterly, last August following its cockle-warming “Go home or face arrest” vans aimed at illegal immigrants, the Home Office had the brainwave to take its campaign cross-platform and, in a horrifically Orwellian update on Police Camera Action, begin live-tweeting co-ordinated raids across the country using the tag #immigrationoffenders. Open and honest, perhaps, but it was the apparent pride in the arrests that offended many:

4) J P Morgan

Over in the world of finance, in November last year the banking giant J P Morgan was mocked by Twitter users after it called for questions to one of its senior executives using the hashtag #AskJPM. More than 6,000 negative responses later, the bank was questioning the wisdom of soliciting comments on social media in the all too recently post-crash era. 

Yet for corporate brand managers, perhaps all publicity remains good publicity.

5) Starbucks

Again in 2012, fast looking like the ground zero year for public/corporate Twitter interface, the coffee chain Starbucks campaign to “spread the cheer” at Christmas was spectacularly mistimed, given it had recently been in the news for paying only £8.5m in tax in the UK since it had launched in 1998. Inevitably its spiced-pumpkin-latte, Deck-the-Halls joviality was hijacked by a slew of somewhat less tinselly bon mots. The company displayed its campaign on an electronic billboard in the National History Museum in London, but failed to check the messages before they went public...

And finally...

Who could forget the glittering invitation to the launch of the Scottish songstress Susan Boyle’s new album that was unfortunately tagged #susanalbumparty? We, for one, can’t - and very much doubt Susan can either. 

I'm a mole, innit.

Felipe Araujo
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Hull revisited: What happens when a Brexit stronghold becomes City of Culture?

We report from Hull, to find out if you can replace the kind of nostalgia that led to a Leave vote with cultural investment.

At 75 metres long, the offshore wind turbine blade erected across Queen Victoria Square, in the heart of Hull, is a sculpture intended to mark a new chapter in the city’s history. For the next 12 months, Hull, a city of more than a quarter of a million people in the northeast of England, will be the UK’s City of Culture.

The 28-tonne blade hails from the local Siemens plant. The German technology company employs around 1,000 people in the area, making it Hull’s biggest single employer.

Seen up close in this context – laid dormant in the middle of a town square instead of spinning up in the air generating energy – the structure is meant to remind passersby of a giant sea creature. It is also, I’m told, an allusion to Hull’s rich maritime history.


All photos: Felipe Araujo

Nostalgia is a big thing in this part of the country. At one point, Hull was the UK’s third largest port but technology and privatisation drastically changed that. The battle over cod fishing with Iceland in the waters of the North Sea 40 years ago has also dealt a major blow to a region with a long and proud trawling tradition.

People here still talk about a bygone era when the fishing industry provided jobs for everyone and there was enough money to go around.

Fast forward to 2017, and the country’s new capital of culture is the same city that voted 67 per cent in favour of leaving the EU last June. Its new-found prestige, it seems, is not enough to erase years of neglect by a political class “too busy for commoners like us”, as one resident puts it.

“More than a message to Brussels, it [the Brexit vote] was a message to Westminster,” Paul Leeson-Taylor, a filmmaker born and bred in Hull, tells me. “For the first time in a long time people in Hull felt like they had the chance to change something, and they took it.”

But while speaking to people on the high street and hanging out with locals at the Community Boxing Club in Orchard Park, one of the city’s most deprived areas, there is one word that consistently popped up in conversation – more than any specific policy from Westminster or the much-hated rules “dictated” by Brussels. Foreigners.

According to official figures, Hull’s population is 89.1 per cent white British. Still, immigration is big on people’s minds here.

During my two-day stay in the city, I find myself being the only black person in most places I visit – I’m certainly the only black guy at the boxing club. So when someone begins a sentence with “I’m not racist but…”, I know a tirade on immigrants is about to ensue.

“There are just too many of them,” Nick Beach, an estate agent whose Polish clientele is a big part of his business, tells me as he is about to teach a boxing class to local children. Beach was born in Shepherd’s Bush, in West London, but has been living in Hull for the last 20 years.

“When I go down there these days and go into Westfield shopping centre, it is very rare you get an English person serving you now,” he says. “I just find it disappointing that you go into your capital city and you are a minority there.”

These are the much-discussed “left behind”, a white working-class community that has gained particular prominence in a time of Brexit and Donald Trump. Under economic pressure and facing social change, they want to have their say in running a country they claim to no longer recognise.

For Professor Simon Lee, a senior politics lecturer at the University of Hull, immigration is only a superficial layer when it comes to explaining the resentment I witness here. For him, the loss of the empire 70 years ago is still something that as a country Britain hasn’t come to terms with.

“The reason for us to be together as a United Kingdom has gone, so what is the project?”

As destiny would have it, a foreign company will now play a major role on Hull’s economic future, at least in the short term. In the wake of the Brexit vote, there were widespread fears Siemens would pull out of the region and take its factory elsewhere. With the massive blade looming large in the background, Jason Speedy, director of the blade factory in Hull, assures me that isn’t the case.

“The Brexit decision has made no difference. We have made our investment decision, so Siemens, together with the Association of British Ports, has put in £310m. It’s all full steam ahead.”

As Hull becomes the country’s cultural hub for the next few months, the hope is that its residents stop looking back and start looking forward.

For Professor Lee, though, until there is a complete change in the power structures that run the country, the north-south divide will remain – with or without the EU. “The way you kill nostalgia is to have something new,” he said. “The reason why people here are nostalgic is because there is nothing to replace it with.”

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.