Broadcasting Board of Governors builds a costly mousetrap that doesn't work

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BBG Watch Commentary
 
Weapons of Mouse Destruction Facebook PageNew media innovators at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG)  built their “Weapons of Mouse Destruction” as “the largest participatory art project against government Internet censorship that has ever been launched.” But the mousetrap that was supposed to drive fear into the hearts of Iranian ayatollahs turned out to be an expensive fiasco — with hardly any viewer-provided art photos, hardly any comments, hardly any web traffic, and hardly any attention from anyone.
The only people that should pay attention are American taxpayers. They should not be mislead by the claim that while the Broadcasting Board of Governors and the Voice of America (VOA) strongly support the struggle against government Internet censorship, WMD is a grassroots project spearheaded by the creators of Parazit, the popular VOA television satire program to Iran. The producers of Parazit may have conceived the idea, but it was almost certainly executed by BBG-hired consultants and paid for with taxpayers’ money.
It is money that has been wasted. It could have been used to support radio and television programs and Internet news content to countries lacking media freedom like China, Tibet, Russia, and Iran. Instead it went to BBG consultants and private contractors with nothing much to show for it except for a few dozen similarly-looking images that don’t leave any distict impression because they are all more or less the same.
The Weapons of Mouse Destruction site shows a scroll gallery of user-contributed photos that may appear large at a first glance until a closer look reveals that the same a few dozens of images are being shown over and over again. The iPhone application features only 27 photos. Its Facebook page has only 777 “Likes”. Mikey Mouse has 4.4 million Facebook fans. Free Pussy Riot Now! (Putin, fear no art.) Community on Facebook has 11,746 “Likes” and 6,252 people talking about it. It joined Facebook only in March. People post on it every hour.
The most recent post by others on the Weapons of Mouse Destruction Facebook Page is from April 1, appropriately April Fools Day. No one has contributed anything since then. It’s now the beginning of August. Could it be perhaps described as a Mickey Mouse project?
To see any posts on the Facebook page, one must go back to March. There were some on March 9, apparently from consultants employed by the BBG, but the best and the funniest one, in out opinion, was from Niloo Soleimani on March 10:

“Sorry I’m a little slow. Why ‘Mouse’ destruction. I don’t get it. Mouse are people too. I’m for NO Destruction at all”

Right on Niloo. Did anyone at the BBG thought about Mickey Mouse or how juvenile and amateur this whole idea is? Niloo is no fan of the ayatollahs. Her Facebook banner says: “Unveil women’s right to unveil.” She knows how to use satire and sarcasm to promote ideas — something that cannot be said of the BBG new media innovation team. Subtle satire is lost on them. We all know that Iran has WMDs and the Koran does not say nice things about rodents. So what? That’s not how successful causes are launched on the Internet.
In July, only  17 peopled “Liked” the BBG project and only 56 people “Talked ” about it on Facebook — a drop from 35 and 74 in June, respectively.
The iPhone WMD application, which no doubt cost a lot of money to produce knowing how BBG consultants operate, has barely three reviews. One reviewer aptly observed:

this is just everyone doing the same pose. i don’t know how that’s helping

It appears that the project has been effectively abandoned by the new media innovation experts who made promises, spent taxpayers’ funds and collected their large paychecks. That’s how things work these days at the Broadcasting Board of Governors.
Meanwhile, the Iranian ayatollah mouse has roared as it laughed at the BBG’s Weapons of Mouse Destruction Mousetrap. The Iranian censors could not have been impressed by the claims from the BBG innovation team, and rightly so.
For the record, we will list here the goals of the BBG experts for the project:

“Weapons of Mouse Destruction is the largest global art project against Internet censorship that has ever been launched. Our mission is simple: use art as a medium to promote advocacy and awareness about government Internet censorship – a growing epidemic impacting the lives of millions of people worldwide.
We enlist the participation of every day people from around the world to use their picture as a symbol of solidarity and make a bold statement against Internet censorship. With the help of the international community, we have the power to transform an art project into a global movement that will impact the lives of millions of people. Join us and become a Weapon of Mouse Destruction against censorship.”

The whole thing could be laughable if core BBG broadcasting services were not being eliminated and journalists specializing in human rights reporting were not being fired to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to consultants who make exaggerated claims and help to execute these meaningless and ineffective projects. In the last two years, Broadcasting Board of Governors executives proposed to end Voice of America broadcasts to China, Tibet, and other nations without free media. They also wanted to fire hundreds of experienced journalists. Fortunately, some of their plans were blocked by the U.S. Congress.
The BBG can compete and fight censorship with serious journalism and broadcasting. It can also compete with television satire programs like Parazit. But contrary to claims from the BBG innovation experts, it can’t compete against millions of websites, Facebook pages and far better designed and better executed Internet projects, because these experts lack a broader vision even if they are given millions of dollars by the BBG to waste.
Frankly, such projects are best done by individuals and entities not connected with the U.S. government. The Voice of America can then report on such initiatives.
The core function of U.S. international broadcasting, where the BBG can make a difference, are radio and television news. New media platforms can, of course, be used to deliver news and information and to supplement the core activity. But what the BBG is doing is to destroy its competitive advantage so it can hire more private contractors and consultants. Some of them have annual task orders funded at over $400,000. They also travel at government expense to Barcelona, London, Prague, and other such locations.
We would like to know how long will they be allowed to sell their unworkable mousetraps to BBG executives and Board members while people in Iran, China, Tibet and Russia are waiting for real news?

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6 comments

  1. Avatar
    QV 2 August, 2012 at 02:47 Reply

    Don’t know if you saw the latest “innovation” from the innovation makers – Podelis’ – the Voice of America (VOA) Russian Service television/new media program
    They keep trying to trumpet it on the in-NO-ovation blog.
    Appallingly bad.  One former VOA broadcaster called it VOUSSR.
    They call it an experiment unlike anything out there.  They may be right. 
    http://www.bbg.gov/press-release/voas-podelis-on-satellite-to-russia-amb-mcfaul-talks-twitter/
    http://www.innovation-series.com/2012/06/29/podelis-making-social-tv/
    Here are some clips.  Look at the measly number of hits.  Can’t claim a hit on this one.
    http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/23601597

  2. Avatar
    Robert Bole 5 August, 2012 at 22:11 Reply

    The Weapons of Mouse Destruction campaign was developed by staff at PNN to highlight the issues of Internet censorship. The Office of Digital & Design Innovation was enlisted to help create the mobile application, which is actually pretty nifty. It is true, that to-date, the WMD campaign has not grown very rapidly, but that is partially based on the need for the campaign to really live outside of BBG. The application itself was done mostly in-house and was done pretty simply at that. Our office has not managed the campaign, and our involvement in advancing it ended with the creation of the mobile phone application.
    For QV, the Podelis program is from the Russian VOA service. It is true that ODDI did help with early thinking on how a television program could utilize social media to help extend and expand the program’s reach with the audience. From our perspective, it makes sense to try to use the power of television (or radio for that matter) and marry it to social media. Russia seems to be a place where it can make a lot of sense. We are encouraging VOA Russia to keep improving its approach because there are such few examples of marrying of international television news with social media.
    We did write an article about Podelis on the Innovation@BBG blog because we think what they are doing merits attention…both as a means for increasing internal information about new efforts, but also a way in which others across US international broadcasting can learn from each other.
    We have observed that the YouTube visits, for the program cannot get into Russia other than through satellite and digital video, are growing over time. One thing can be said that the program is hitting a key demographic: young, digital-savvy, activists. Does it have impact? While others will answer this question, we do know that the effort they are making to create high-quality content using new methods is worth exploring.
    One last word, ODDI was partially chartered with driving innovation, by which we think of trying to think about how news and information is evolving and to get there faster. We know that media markets are changing rapidly…who would have thought that Nigeria would have over 5M Facebook users and that YouTube just launched local versions of its service for Ghana and Senegal just in the last several weeks? Our goal is to make sure that our reporters and services.
    Does this mean that digital should overtake broadcast? Clearly not. Broadcast is the most powerful force to shape and change societies in the last 100 years. Our goal is not supplant any form of broadcast with digital media. (For in many countries all-out digital does not make sense for many reasons, including technology penetration…but we must admit that the trend of digital media usage, even in some of the most remote areas, is advancing.) What we do want to to is to find ways to marry the established power of broadcast with the emerging power of digital. That is why we like Podelis…how to use social media to support television…and other projects that are using new mobile, digital audio/video, social and content syndication.
    Will we hit 100% with marrying these two? No, we will not. Do we want clear-eyed rationalists to help point ways to improve our approach? Yes. While we may not always agree with the opinions of this blog, we do take note when there are constructive critiques and recommendations.

    • Avatar
      Guest 7 August, 2012 at 20:15 Reply

      What a load of babble.
      “It is true, that to-date, the WMD campaign has not grown very rapidly, but that is partially based on the need for the campaign to really live outside of BBG.”
      What does that even mean?

  3. Avatar
    BBGWatcher 8 August, 2012 at 00:29 Reply

    Any new media, public diplomacy and even advertising savvy individual could have told the BBG’s Office of Digital & Design Innovation that this campaign would be a disaster for these simple reasons:
    1. You don’t use a theme of violence, much less violence against animals, to attract young people to a cause, unless you are part of the violent movement or engage in psychological warfare. You use a nonviolent theme to counter censorship and violence.
    2. ODDI innovators should have realized that Mickey Mouse is also a mouse and an internationally known and beloved character.
    3. The essence of art is self-expression. You can’t do much by covering your face. That’s why the meager number of images you got all look the same.
    4. If you want to disassociate the organization from the project, then perhaps you should not run it in the first place.
    5. You can’t run a campaign and report on it at the same time if you are a journalist.
    6. Leave such campaigns to others and focus on the core mission of journalism.

  4. Avatar
    Anonymous 8 August, 2012 at 00:46 Reply

    Violence against animals? Mickey Mouse? Are we all on the same page here? BBGWatcher, surely you understand that the “mouse” that they were referring to was a **computer mouse** right? As far as I’m aware, their whole campaign is about raising awareness of the proliferation of online censorship…

  5. Avatar
    BBGWatcher 8 August, 2012 at 05:02 Reply

    We are on the same page and thank you for making our point. The whole campaign is a fiasco, starting with its name and theme. Why give the title of your own campaign to the censors? It makes no sense. It’s confusing. But what counts in the end is that the campaign is a total failure. It has not been noticed by anyone. And don’t deny that violence and military language are not the overreaching theme of the campaign. They are. You can’t win over anyone with this kind of thinking, least of all the young people. And the photos are all the same and they suck because it was so poorly designed. Someone needs to review all ODDI ideas.

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