Saturday, December 17, 2005

Why Business Loves Internet Predators

The disingeuousness of business magazines glitters in a Business Week cover story on the booming world of teen and college age internet networking. (“The MySpace Generation: They live online. They buy online. They play online. Their power is growing,” by Jessi Hempel, Business Week, December 12, 2005.) The article adds a little sidebar at the end about internet predators, the sexual kind, who use teen sites as scoping grounds, and what to do to keep safe from them. But the article celebrates the far more obvious predators: the advertisers and marketers who prey on millions of children, manipulating the sites and “embedding” themselves to outrageous degrees so that—in Business Week’s own giddy words—“the advertising can be so subtle that kids don’t distinguish it from content. ‘It’s what our users want,’” the magazine quotes one of its implants as saying. Really? Where’s the evidence that kids want deceptively stealthy advertising that preys on their $175 billion market? ($200 billion for college students, according to Alloy Media Marketing.) Where’s the evidence that kids want Procter & Gamble inventing characters and giving them their own profiles on so the company can talk up its latest body spray to tweeners (the 8-to-12 demographic age group)? And whether kids want it or not, where’s the ethic of letting giant marketing machines steamroll all overt kids, unsupervised, unregulated, unbound? Coke pays one Web site “less than $70,000 a year” for its products to be plastered all over the place, and the site’s administrator is all happy about how “They let us do our thing. They don’t censor what we do,” as if Coke would give a crap about content as long as it had a fresh cheap way to market? Censorship is a problem, according to the report: “Last year, for example, Buzz-Oven was nearly thrown off track when a band called Flickerstick wanted to post a song called Teenage Dope Fiend on the network. Holt told Buzzers: ‘Well, you can’t use that song. I’d be encouraging teenagers to try drugs.’ They saw his point, and several Buzzers persuaded the band to offer up a different song. But such potential conflicts are one way, Holt concedes, that Buzz-Oven’s corporate sponsorships could come to a halt.”

Barely in passing, the article mentions that epidemic of stupor reducing the nation’s teens to electronically addled zombies: “Fifteen- to eighteen-year-olds average nearly 6 1/2 hours a day watching TV, playing video games, and surfing the Net, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey. A quarter of that time, they're multitasking. The biggest increase: computer use for activities such as social networking, which has soared nearly threefold since 2000, to 1 hour and 22 minutes a day on average.” No mention of the social or psychological effects this may have on kids, no sidebar about how to mitigate what essentially has turned into a national addiction. Business before health. So the magazine focuses on companies’ tactics and strategies: Rupert Murdoch, the Predator in Chief, shelling out $580 million in July to buy MySpace’s parent company, Disney setting up blogs on for one of its movie’s main characters, to talk up the movie and generate buzz, Target creating similarly hybrid “characters” to sell its products, and on it goes. Where are the Dateline NBC reports on that sort of predators, who cast and mold young people’s buying habits for a lifetime? Among the nation’s 24 million teens, 87 percent use the internet, 65 percent instant-message, almost half go online every day, and most of those end up in worlds like (no need to hyperlink the obsessively hyperlinked) where they “need a friend to nurse you through a breakup, a mentor to tutor you on your calculus homework [you’ve got to be kidding us], an address for the party everyone is going to.”

And we wonder why we’re rearing a generation of programmed idiots who compulsively buy what they’re told and consume the syrupy bromides of a Coke as automatically as they would the canned goods of GOP ideologies. That’s America’s synergy. That’s what’s the matter with Kansas.