Federal Politics


Sniff of a moral campaign enough to start social media avalanche

TARGET shouldn't be dressing little girls as tarts. Agree?

Well, when you put it that way, it's hard not to. You don't have to shop at Target to agree with that proposition. You don't have to have any idea personally whether junior hooker-gear is actually available there.

Hell - you don't even have to have a young daughter to have an opinion on this matter, so jumbo-sized is the inherent moral issue here, and so readily inflammatory.

A telltale sign in the media coverage of the ''Target tramp social media firestorm'' in the past week has been the lack of pictures or other evidence of Target's alleged slutty kids' range.

The only image I saw was a pair of leopard-skin print shorts.

These looked to my eye discernibly more generous in their coverage than several comparable terry-towelling items I clearly remember from my own 1970s childhood wardrobe, though my recollection is that I sensibly defrayed any erotic frisson the towelling butt-shorts might otherwise have inflamed among passing perverts by teaming them with wellies.


I shop periodically for my daughter at Target, and cannot recall ever feeling especially appalled by their range, apart from occasionally wondering whether that much glitter was really necessary.

But the question of whether Target's clothes are or aren't in fact excessively saucy is one swiftly left behind in the modern social media mob attack.

Social media outrage campaigns don't have to be right in order to prosper and flourish - they just need to FEEL right.

Just ask the Nine Network, which in the past fortnight has weathered a hefty Facebook campaign of criticism for not screening the Paralympics.

This one was kicked off by another Facebook punter, Jay Andrews, who - styling himself ''An Honest Australian'' - sledged Nine for its ''appalling'' failure to screen the Paralympics, despite the fact that Mr Andrews would ''much rather'' watch Paralympians than the residents of the new Big Brother house, or Charlie Sheen's new series.

Nigh on 200,000 Facebookers agreed.

Does it matter that the reason Nine isn't airing the Paralympics is because it doesn't have the rights, which belong to the ABC, which will be screening them in full?

Not for the purposes of a mob attack on social media, where the sniff of a moral crusade is more than enough to get you started.

In 2009, the Danish psychologist Anders Colding-Jorgensen - as part of a research experiment - posted to his 120 Facebook friends a mild condemnation of the Copenhagen authorities' plans to demolish the Danish capital's iconic Stork fountain.

Within a fortnight, the post had grown into a campaign, with 28,000 supporters, despite the fact that the whole thing was fictitious, and there was no evidence anywhere that the fountain was under any kind of threat.

Let's be honest - it's fun to kick corporations in the goolies.

Especially when they are corporations whose historical interaction with customers has been to lie to them in advertising, and then subject them to an electronic half hour of The Girl From Ipanema if they ever have the temerity to ring up and complain.

Any consumer who once bought a Toyota that didn't give them ''Oh, What a Feeling'', or who was patronised by a lady at the David Jones haberdashery counter, or who is annoyed by the NAB's patently misleading ''More Give, Less Take'' slogan, or who cannot forgive the Seven Network for Dinner Date, will take a sadistic pleasure in hitting the ''Like'' button on any social media campaign against those companies.

And fair enough. Such scars run deep.

But there is a deep inconsistency at work here, too, in the slacktivist's lazy thumbs-up to anything that sounds sort of right.

Does anyone else marvel that in the space of one week we can sledge Target for being underprotective of vulnerable children, yet at the same time, and with similar shrillness, attack Virgin Airlines for being over-protective, with its policy of not seating male passengers next to unaccompanied children?

It's the same fabulous disconnect that allowed a gazillion Assange Twitter fans on Friday to hail Ecuador and its President Rafael Correa as a hero of international free speech and human rights.

Correa is the same guy who last year jailed a journalist and three executives from the newspaper El Universal for saying nasty things about him.

The same guy who has removed protections from whistleblowers in his own country, and is expected soon to extradite the Belarusian anti-corruption campaigner Alexander Barankov to a messy fate in his country of birth.

Ecuador: The champion of free speech. The mind boggles.

A fast medium encourages hasty judgments.

It doesn't have to be right. It just has to sound about-right.

And if you can't point and click to fight for your about-rights, then what the hell's the point of the internet?