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Pulling the plug on social media? (Ethernet Cable by Petr Kratochvil, via publicdomainpictures.net)

In the wake of the fact that more and more Swedish communes are using Facebook and Twitter for ‘citizen communication’, the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SKL) today published a set of guidelines (in Swedish) for the use of social media.

The guidelines stem from a judicial inquiry, which has given the ‘all clear’ for Swedish communes, local authorities and regions to use social media. Given that over 60 communes in Sweden already use twitter, including local politicians and public servants, it was just a matter of time before guidelines were published.

But will this spread to Brussels?

When our friends over at Fleishman-Hillard looked into how MEPs use the internet, including social media, they found that 21% of MEPs use Twitter, among others. Couple that with the amount of Commissioners who run their own blog, MEP assistants and Commission officials active (and visible) on Facebook, etc, and you could almost be surprised that there are no official guidelines for how elected officials (and EU civil servants) are to tweet and blog!

Will there be guidelines for the Brussels-based politician and civil servant? Should there be…?

– Emil

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Twitter is expanding at a meteoric rate. Not having a Facebook account is highly unusual today among under 30s (and above). Corporate business cards include Skype usernames. Recruitment happens on LinkedIn. Digital ad infinitum….

But what about actually speaking to colleagues, friends and family, face-to-face? Now that’s a novel idea.

This afternoon I ‘spoke’ to a colleague in the US by LinkedIn inMail. I ‘informed’ a group of journalists regarding a digital initiative by sending them a Facebook group message. My inbox welcomed close to 300 emails during the course of the day. I sent a friend an MMS. I ‘discussed’ the content of an email to a client with my Bulgarian colleague on Skype chat…she sits next to me, about one metre and a half away.

'Speaking' to my colleague

That’s when it hit me, just as Stephen Hawking thinks it perfectly rational to believe in aliens (yet he thinks we should not reach out to to them, apparently things could turn sour!), I find it completely irrational that the more technology we invite into our daily lives, the less we seem to actually speak to each other.

Is technology stripping us of good old fashioned human interaction, do we lend it too much credence? I say –  try meeting up with friends, skip the conference call and have lunch instead, have breakfast, share a coffee etc. Trust me, it’s worth it.

– Emil

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Let's do better than this, shall we?

Since Ivy Lee’s famous press release in 1906, media communication has evolved. Some would argue the pinnacle of this development is the social media press release. It’s nothing revolutionary in The Lobby’s opinion, but it does hit the nail on the head in one sense – in keeping with the times.

Digital is here to stay, whether you like it or not, which to a certain degree means that tools, plied for whatever trade, that keep up with the changing face of internet technology are probably more likely to survive, thrive, and get the job done.

Here are some mind boggling statistics to reinforce this point:

  • In 1995 there were 45.1 million internet users, at the end of September 2009, that same figure had risen to 1.73 billion.
  • On average 247 billion emails are sent every day.
  • There are over 234 million websites and 128 million blogs today.
  • 27.3 million tweets are sent on Twitter every day.
  • Facebook serves 260 billion page views per month, or 37.4 trillion page views a year.

Now then, back to the social media press release. The basics are straightforward and well established, especially for public relations professionals. It’s a digital news release that contains multimedia elements such as MP3 files or links to podcasts, graphics, video, RSS-feeds, Technorati tags and ‘add/share’ buttons for popular sharing platforms such as Digg, Reddit, Stumbleupon etc. Here you can see two examples of social media releases from Cisco and Symantec.

So what about the position paper, the staple food of the ever-so-non-digital Brussels public affairs scene? At the risk of upsetting our peers in Brussels, it seems the most avant-garde move that that public affairs professionals have done on this front is to turn a Word document into a PDF, ideal for – yes – printing. OK that’s not quite true, but you get the gist.

Where is the digital position paper? The tool that in the future will form the means to communicate with stakeholders (when we’ve finally evolved into a paperless society and when digital paper has taken off in a big way), the tool that will be read by Commission, Council and Parliament officials on Android powered pads. We’re not there yet, but the tools to create such a position paper are most definitely here or in the pipeline at the very least.

Imagine opening up a truly interactive and visual position paper. The key messages are there sure, but, for instance, the manufacturing process is displayed in crystal clear video, statistics and key figures come to life when clicked, diagrams and charts are smoothly plotted across your screen, the CEO of the company gives you a quick tour of the company’s upcoming priorities etc.

This vision might seem to be a simple attempt at daring to be bold, but, it could still be rather more effective when it comes to communicating with stakeholders in Brussels, than the traditional two-pager in black and white with a few logos in the header…

We’re curious to know what people think, both inside and outside of the institutions. Is the digital position paper part of the missing link? Could it improve communication in Brussels (and D.C. for that matter)?

– Emil

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Mr. Madelin has indeed made a real difference.

On 1 April, after more than a year of rumours hinting at Robert Madelin leaving the helm of the European Commission’s Health and Consumers DG (DG SANCO) (he held the position for six years despite the fact that Director-Generals are expected to move on every five years), it finally happened.

Musical chairs – Madelin replaces Fabio Colasanti, who is retiring from the post of Director-General for Information Society and Media (DG INFSO). And as expected, Paola Testori-Coggi, who has been Deputy Director-General for Health and Consumers (DG SANCO) since July 2007, was appointed to replace Robert Madelin.

So what? Well, potentially this could mean quite a few changes. Madelin had transformed the way the health and consumers directorate was run. He has been high profile, taken risks and established what he called “co-operative voluntarism” as the new way of doing things: getting stakeholders to sit around a table and sign up to voluntary commitments, as an alternative to legislation.

Madelin’s departure does raise a question over the future of the European Platform on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, which brought stakeholders together around one table to tackle the obesity pandemic. The same applies to the alcohol forum and its set of voluntary actions.

Ms. Testori-Coggi will most probably keep a lower profile than her predecessor but her scientific background and broad experience of food safety issues and emerging technologies could be seen as real added value now that biotechnologies have been transferred to the health portfolio.

As for Madelin’s new post, there seems to be a consensus in Brussels around the fact that he will be instrumental in shaping Europe’s Digital Future. His health experience could benefit DG INFSO in digital consumer and health related topics such as e-health. As for his trade experience (Madelin used to run the Trade DG), it could help him tackle key challenges of the EU Digital Agenda such as the much needed deployment of next generation access networks.

Director-Generals may be more discrete than Commissioners, but they are some of the most powerful players in Brussels – so watch this space, we certainly will!

– Delphine

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Let's have a look at your inbox, just because I can! (Woman with magnifying glass by Peter Kratochvil via PublicDomainPictures.net)

On Monday, Lifehacker reported [via Gawker, via The Rumpus] that you really shouldn’t trust facebook with your private data. This latest claim, while not surprising, is based on an anonymous interview with a facebook employee who has spilt the beans on privacy inside the Stanford Research Park-based company. This is what makes this revelation just that little bit more interesting.

The woman, who according to the interview still works at facebook, has divulged information about a ‘master password’, for instance, which allows any facebook employee to unlock any user account, giving them full access to your photos, your wall, and your private inbox with all the implied repercussions.

“When I first started working there yes. I used it to view other people’s profiles which I didn’t have permission to visit”, says the anonymous employee in the interview. The use of the master password has since this summer been discouraged, but it might still exist. Apparently it was something along the lines of ‘Chuck Norris’ combined with a slew of upper and lower case symbols and numbers. facebook has created a Chief Officer position for privacy issues – Chief Privacy Officer Chris Kelly – who interestingly is running for Attorney General of California.

Meanwhile, facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg ruffled a few feathers last Friday when he proclaimed during the 2009 Crunchies Awards ceremonies that privacy is becoming less important to online users…

We’re not so sure…

– Emil

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The Swedish Presidency will be a tough act to follow for the Spanish in the field of digital rights and the internet.

Source: Wisebread.com

Despite the presence of the never-ending financial crisis, which will ensure that Spain’s main priorities lie in the realm of economic reform and the implementation of the Treaty of Lisbon, digital rights will not go unnoticed in the first half of 2010.

Spain has already published its list of digital priorities, which includes setting up a European Charter on ICT users’ rights, a document which already exists at the national level in Spain. This digital plan, the so-called Granada strategy, will enter uncharted territory, with the main debate focusing on the use of Skype and other internet services on mobile phones.

Although this would have a severe and negative impact on telecoms revenues, let’s just say that The Lobby wouldn’t lose any sleep if it got a bit cheaper to call home.

– Victoria

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Building bridges for a better debate (Under the Bridge by Andrea Schafthuizen, via PublicDomainPictures.net)

There exists a vacuum in Brussels. A void that could and (should?) be filled by so called first-party bloggers. First-party bloggers are, in this case, the people who have the acumen and potential of serving as bridges between the many industry players and NGOs active in Brussels.

To be honest, industries and NGOs in Brussels are presently not really talking to each other – rather they are talking at each other, or indirectly to each other via various EU fora. Taking a more concrete example, looking at the posts on Greenpeace’s Climate blog ahead of Copenhagen I see quite a few comments – but none from industry, at least not explicitly stated as such. And where are the industry blogs? Sure, there are a few – but far from enough.

More industry and NGO blogs coupled with a few passionate (and independent!) first-party bloggers building bridges between the two communities could quite possibly lead to greater transparency and a more fruitful debate on critical issues such as climate change.

Any structural engineers keen to take on the challenge?

– Emil

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

The guy who outmanoeuvred Harry Potter (image by The Lobby)

The much anticipated, yet controversial game, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, broke all records when released globally on 10 November. The game, which was released on Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC, generated $550 million of gross revenue during its first five days on the market.

So what? Well, given that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince movie’s five-day global box-office record was $394 million, this figure is actually quite mind-boggling.

Many of us might not know that Europe represents the third biggest gaming market in the world, after the US and Asia – led in particular by Germany, France, the UK and to a lesser extent Spain. The gaming industry in Europe encompasses more than 600 PC and video game studios and employs over 100,000 individuals in Europe. If history can shed any light on the future of the global (and European for that matter) gaming industry – things are looking up. The global worth of the industry was estimated at $5bn in 1981, $54bn last year, and is set to exceed $68bn in sales by 2012 – leading The Lobby to ponder whether this is perhaps one of Europe’s most promising industries of the future (creating jobs and tapping into the talent of young European game developers!)

Nevertheless, the creative industry, and the gaming industry in particular, will always have its critics, crying foul at the levels of violence depicted in today’s games, as well as its proponents.

So how about developing a game taking students, laymen, and professionals alike through the new process of comitology under Lisbon?

I’d play it. For a while anyway.

– Emil

This is not enough...think before you post! (image by The Lobby)

Ars Technica yesterday ran a story about how a woman in Canada, suffering from severe depression, had her sick leave coverage pulled by her insurance company, Manulife, after seeing pictures of her at a party on facebook.

This kind of situation is nothing new; prospective employers today are known to look at facebook profiles ahead of interviewing candidates, so it is more than likely that insurance companies do the same. But this situation is very different – the lady in question, Nathalie Blanchard – posted pictures of her own birthday party on a private section of her facebook profile, i.e. only accessible to certain individuals. Her insurance company, according to the article, decided that “people diagnosed with depression are incapable of having fun for even short periods of time, because Manulife pulled Blanchard’s benefits with no notice. When she called to inquire about the checks, Manulife said she appeared to be “available to work” thanks to Facebook.”

The author of this post uses the same setup. Posted pictures are private, and only a handful of contacts can access them. So how did her insurance company, Manulife, get hold of these pictures? There are ways of accessing private pictures, even deleted pictures, but that’s another debate in itself. The worrying trend here is that companies, insurance companies in particular, are using social media to gather intelligence on its customers.

So, just to recap, as has been said and written over and over again – don’t upload pictures that you don’t want to be spread around. With reports of politicians, Commission officials, MEPs (and their assistants etc) using Twitter, facebook, and surely Flickr, there is a lesson to be learnt here. To use a term coined by the world’s number one spook agency, the ‘blowback’ that can result from pictures on social media networks can (will?) be much greater for a political figure compared to an ordinary citizen…

It’s simple really. Think before you post (and please, also, think before you tag).

Emil

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You get up in the morning and drive to work. After work you drive to the supermarket to buy some food and maybe you will take your car out again later for a visit to a friend.

In order to reduce CO2 emissions, the Dutch Government will be following this every move. A new and very innovative Road Pricing Scheme will be introduced in 2012 and is expected to reduce the costs for 59% of all drivers. So logically, around 60% of all drivers should greatly favour this new scheme. Notwithstanding the fact of course that the satellites connected to the device installed in your car will be able to monitor where you are going and when…

In addition, there is little doubt that the police will also be given access to this data. After all, knowing exactly where citizens are is in the interests of state safety and the citizens themselves. Isn’t it?

The obligation for European citizens to have their fingerprints in their passports and identity cards has, in the country’s aspirations to be a leader in this area, already been implemented by the Netherlands in September of this year.

As the only EU Member State to do this so far, the Netherlands is storing all this data in a central national database which can be consulted by the Public Prosecutor. Nonetheless, the protection of this database cannot, as the Government has admitted, be 100% guaranteed. But hey, that is just a detail. Right?

The main aim of storing all these fingerprints is to combat identity-fraud, terrorism, and illegal immigration. But would it really make you feel comfortable knowing that all your data is stored in one large database? Getting access to this giant database of data which we are creating in the Netherlands will no doubt be a new “holy grail” for hackers, terrorists, and criminals. If it really is in the interests of the people that their fingerprints are stored, should they not be able to decide for themselves whether or not their fingerprint scans are put on a database?

Taking these big-brother aspirations of the Dutch into consideration, The Lobby’s Dutch contingent is hoping that they will not be putting forward a Commissioner for the portfolio of Justice and Home Affairs!

– Lieneke

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