Arsenal shirt controversy highlights peril of personalisation
A view from Omar Oakes

Arsenal shirt controversy highlights peril of personalisation

Adidas forgot that when it comes to social media, the nastiest voices are usually the loudest.

This year marks a decade since I’ve been on Twitter and, despite being a journalist who is supposed to know a thing or two about media, I still often misunderstand the platform.

Recently, Twitter’s own Bruce Daisley pointed out one of my wrongs. In response to a racist slur by disgraced former MP George Galloway, I suggested to Daisley that Twitter rethink its policy over giving such people a blue tick and hence a seal of legitimacy.

Daisley (rightly) pointed out to me: "He's a formerly elected politician. Verification isn't endorsement, it is literally verification. This is who it says it is." 

It’s disturbing to imagine the kind of person who would want to impersonate Galloway, but we should actually be encouraged that Twitter practises this kind of user verification, even if it is only for the rich and famous.

But what about the vast majority of users who aren’t "verified"? All you need to set up a Twitter account is an email address. 

Because the problem with social media is the cloak of anonymity that gives cover for bots to spread fake news and trolls to abuse even the most humdrum social media campaign by a brand. 

Adidas fell into the trap this week when promoting itself as the new kit manufacturer of Arsenal. 

You can imagine how great the idea sounded in the pitch meeting: "Let’s create a tool for people to add their Twitter handle to the back of the shirt and they can tweet it out to their followers."

Not long after the campaign launched on Monday, it was "abused" by people who created handles such as @GasAllJewss and @MadelineMcCann [sic].

It’s not as if Adidas was not warned about this. In 2017, Walkers fell into exactly the same trap in which a similar Twitter tool became famous for the wrong reason when people inserted pictures of notorious criminals into a shareable video with brand spokesman Gary Lineker.

The lesson is: don’t invite user-generated content into your social media campaigns unless you can actively moderate it or find a way of stopping malicious content at source.

Because Twitter is not going to do this voluntarily – countless instances in recent years have shown us that. Social media’s business model is built on open access to the platform by anyone, even if their intentions are solely for the purpose of getting hateful speech on to a brand’s football shirt.

Rather than slink away after being burnt, brands like Adidas and Walkers should be more proactive in putting pressure on social platforms to put more stringent verification measures in place.

This does not have to mean everyone who uses Twitter needs to provide a passport or driving licence, but why can’t brands be given the chance to restrict interactive campaigns to quality user accounts? Automated tools can easily distinguish between real and fake accounts with a high degree of accuracy and have shown that supposedly "popular" figures like Donald Trump are mostly followed by bogus accounts.

Innovative social media campaigns can be very effective at the fraction of the cost of above-the-line media, but social platforms need to help brands (and normal folk) that want to communicate online without having to wade through a swamp of fake news and trolls.

Perhaps it’s time for Twitter to start handing out red crosses as well as blue ticks?