The Secret Service have a new remit, they'll be protecting the President against the potentially deadly effects of sarcasm. Thankfully though, they're buying a 'sarcasm detector' which can do just that.
Announced via a work order on Monday, the Secret Service confirmed it would be buying a special piece of software that can detect a range of emotions on Twitter, hoping to rule out incidents involving sarcastic threats.
Along with being able to detect what many (wrongly) describe as the 'lowest form of wit', the software can detect the level of influence a user has, how sentimental they're being and provide easy access to historical Twitter data.
Once an alert appears the Secret Service then has the option to send a notification to a user, warning them of the potential ramifications of their rant.
First discovered by nextgov.com, it appears as though the decision was made after the Homeland Security Department got in a spot of bother when it was found to be working on a program which would involve creating fake Twitter profiles to spy on normal users.
In a bold effort to win over the American youth to the rejuvenated Healthcare.gov service, renowned cool cat President Barak Obama appeared on the satirical internet chat show series Between 2 Ferns. Hosted by the deadpan yet venomous Zack Galifianakis, the recorded tirade of traded insults has to date obtained over 22m views globally, and directly resulted in a dramatic increase in healthcare sign-ups.
Some have seen Obama's actions as foolhardy and lacking the decorum befitting a man in Office. It is argued however that the acute awareness and foresight to appropriately reciprocate the communications of an increasingly digitised youth, is a huge step forward for global political communications.
Wasn't It Just a Video?
In the UK alone, people see on average over 3,500 marketing messages a day, all seeking to suggest, sway and ultimately sell a product or service, either overtly or covertly. This ever increasing volume of often conflicting communications inherently makes it ever more difficult to cut through and meaningfully connect with audiences.
Recognising that a simple press release or TV ad just wouldn't resonate with America's youth, Obama delivered something of genuine value that they'd actually want to engage with. Comedy. Real comedy too. Not the mildly whimsical PC jestings of an Oxbridge toff, but that of edginess and appeal - "So what's it like to be the last black President?"
The emotional benefit received from the content ensured that by the time the - believed to be ingeniously deliberate - plug for healthcare.gov comes in at the end, the captivated audience were more than willing to partake in a value exchange (trading their attention for watching something funny) and listen to Obama's message.
So What Happened?
The fallout of this was phenomenal, with healthcare enrolment traffic increasing by 40% in the weeks succeeding the video's release and America's uninsured rate now at its lowest point since 2008. Most impressive however is the fact that the Youtube video page was the no.1 source of traffic to Healthcare.gov. Now this may not sound like a STOP PRESS revelation, but in showing that users went directly to the site having watched the video, it proves that comedy can result in action. No "I'll research it and see if it's a good idea," no Googling "USA Healthcare" a week later, and no millions of dollars spent on a nationwide TV campaign. Instead, by making politics fun Obama managed to get millions to go straight to their address bar and typing in H-e-a-l-t-h-c-a-r-e-.-g-o-v....[Enter]. Considering the tsunami of criticism that engulfed the unveiling of the service, proving that non-traditional means of political communication can induce a direct and immediate action at this scale is huge.
"But Lincoln Wouldn't Have Done It"
As apparent self-appointed voice of the right wing, this was Bill O'Reily of Fox News' chief criticism in his lambasting of the "demeaning" interview," believing it to diminish Presidential dignity. Obama has since successfully repudiated this stance, pointing to Lincoln's historic willingness to interact and joke with the public. It is submitted however that his calm repost doesn't quite give O'Reily the deserved right handed slap in the face - deliverance corresponding political stance - for his ignorance of foresight. Whilst the video is prima facie a simple success at increasing youth sign-ups to healthcare.gov, it could well mark a new era of digi-politicised communications.
Back in 1922, Warren Harding broke new grounds in being the first President to politicise the airwaves with his sultry tones. In a similar fashion, once an established broadcast method, FDR won the race to put his face in front of the camera. This considered, Obama following the presidential suits of his predecessors in seeking to utilise a young medium is an appropriately progressive move for political communications. It definitely doesn't make him a terrible leader.
But Will It Work for Something Bigger Than Curing a Healthcare Hiccup?
As was famously documented in the Kennedy-Nixon debates, those that tuned in on the radio believed Nixon won, whilst the 65-74m TV viewers believed the reverse. It was Kennedy's brilliant use of the medium that was credited to have wiped out Nixon's race lead, and ultimately led to his 0.1% victory over his Republican rival.
So with digital now primed as the next battleground, we could see a similarly savvy politician manage to sway the swathes of swingers and take to the Oval Office.
That said it's not all sunshine and roses. Whilst digital offers up a plethora of advantages over traditional media, those that act erroneously or in ignorance are quickly exposed. The vulturous press, supported by every Tom, Dick and Harry capable of clicking [create] on Tumblr are for ever circling, waiting to gore and gouge any who slip up. A prime example of this is when a picture of married Congressman Anthony Weiner's wiener was made public after having tweeted the pic to a female admirer. Eventually coming clean, he didn't learn his lesson, and his run for Mayor of New York was destroyed when he was found to be continuing his behaviour under pseudonym Carlos Danger. In a few simple tweets, he went from a man of political standing and a bright future, to having the Congressional clout of candy floss. #SillyWeiner.
President Obama's use of comedy to progress the administrative agenda was bold. Very bold. However in displaying a true understanding of how his audience want to be communicated with, it was equally as brilliant.
Proving the full potential and versatility of digital as a communicatory medium, he has paved the way for others to follow suit in upcoming elections. That said, as we have and will continue to see, the road to the Oval Office is paved with dangers, and we can likely expect both blunders and successes as this medium is further explored. So with the stage set for a fairly open election in 2016, we will have to see how the candidates fair. If Kennedy is anything to go by, it could well be that whoever is more switched on digitally could be the candidate sworn in.
All this considered it would appear that only one question remains unanswered. Would Lincoln have indeed have recorded such a video? Well if Bill O'Reily can apparently speak on his behalf I guess anyone can. So yes. Definitely............From space.
1. Funny Or Die (2014), YouTube Channel, Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UnW3xkHxIEQ (Accessed 25.05.14).
2. Funny Or Die (2014), Website, Available at http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/18e820ec3f/between-two-ferns-with-zach-galifianakis-president-barack-obama (Accessed 15.05.14).
3. Gibson, O. The Shopper's eye view of the Ads that Pass us by, The Guardian Online, available at http://www.theguardian.com/media/2005/nov/19/advertising.marketingandpr (Accessed 28.05.14).
4. Op. Cit. no.1, at 1:15.
5. What's believed to be particularly clever here is the recognition that a jarring of tone would occur were they to seek to weave in something as politically pointy as Obamacare. Just as with many product placements, trying to sneak under the radar can cause messages to stand out even more - just watch any recent James Bond movie as evidence. If this occurs the immersion in the content can be disrupted, and viewers may reject the message almost out of principle - "I thought this was just a funny interview, but it's just another stupid attempt to get me to sign up to that crappy Obamacare." So instead, by deliberately drawing attention to the plug in a manner in keeping with the rest of the comedic piece, they retain the audience's attention throughout delivery of the message.
6. As noted by White House Senior Communications Advisor Tara McGuiness on her Twitter account. McGuiness, T. (2014), Twitter, Available at https://twitter.com/HealthCareTara (Accessed 17.05.14).
7. Levy. J (2014), U.S. Uninsured Rate Drops, Gallup, Available at http://www.gallup.com/poll/168821/uninsured-rate-drops.aspx (Accessed 30.05.14).
8. Isquith, E. (2014), Bill O'Reilly: Abraham Lincoln wouldn't Have Done "Between Two Ferns", Salon.com, Available at http://www.salon.com/2014/03/12/bill_oreilly_abraham_lincoln_wouldnt_have_done_between_two_ferns/ (Accessed 25.05.14).
11. Johnson, T. (2014), President Obama Defends Doing Funny or Die's "Between Two Ferns", Variety.com, Available at phttp://variety.com/2014/biz/news/president-obama-defends-doing-funny-or-dies-between-two-ferns-1201140586 (Accessed 01.06.14).
12. Though Calvin Coolidge was the first to deliver a presidential address solely through radio in 1923.
13. High point of 74 Estimated by Nielsen - Webley, K. (2010), How the Nixon-Kennedy Debate changed the World, Time, Available at http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2021078,00.html (Accessed 31.05.14).
14. Granted there were external factors in play here, however the debates were widely believed to be a key factor in securing the Presidency.
15. Mary Ferrell Foundation (date unknown), Kennedy-Nixon Debates, Available at https://www.maryferrell.org/wiki/index.php/Kennedy-Nixon_Debates (Accessed 30.05.14).
16. A simple example of how this could be used in the next election race would be for a candidate to be able to reach swing state voters with topically relevant messages throughout a campaign. By targeting internet users via their IP addresses, Sarah Palin could send Ohio messages on climate change, whilst over in Virginia they're seeing videos on education. Being able to optimise the messages that are served based on interactions, social shares etc, allows her to understand what is hitting and missing in every state, whilst having the benefit of creating a consistent and more personal presence in each state, than the 2/3 visits she might be able to make on the campaign trail that are supported by broad national messages in debates etc.
17. Yours truly very much included here.
18. Smith, M. (2014), Political Twitter Gaffes: 8 Politicians for Whom too Many Tweets Made a T***, Available at http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/political-twitter-gaffes-8-politicians-3466777 (Accessed 31.05.14).
On 14 April 2014, 276 Nigerian school girls were abducted by Boko Haram, to minimal outrage or global press coverage.
Two weeks later, a fire was lit in the form of the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag campaign, and three days later still John Kerry issued the first official US government response to the situation.
By 6 May President Obama had vowed to send 30 personnel to Nigeria to assist in the rescue of the remaining captive girls; and on 22 May a further 80 military personnel were committed to Nigeria.
There's no doubt at all that since the first #BringBackOurGirls mention by Nigerian lawyer Ibrahim M. Abdullahi on 23 April, the hashtag has pushed this crime from regional to global news and has contributed to Obama's decision to commit personnel to Africa.
Why, then, has the hashtag had such an impact?
Firstly, this is not a divisive issue. Unlike hashtag campaigns that have come and gone before, #BringBackOurGirls has unified a global audience and, apart from a microscopic percentage of Boko Haram supporters, the whole world is behind the message, if not the means, of the campaign. Hashtag campaigns about everything from Orca captivity, to gay marriage, to Invisible Children; even the #YesAllWomen hashtag have all divided national and global opinions (rightly or wrongly) where #BringBackOurGirls has united the world's population in solidarity.
Secondly, the message is clear and resonates: when Ibrahim M. Abdullahi first delivered the hashtag it was directly referencing the Vice President of the World Bank for Africa, Oby Ezekwesili's real-world press statement demanding the release of the abducted girls. Specifically she said 'Bring back our daughters' which translated to #BringBackOurGirls when posted to Twitter. There is no argument as to what the hashtag means or what it is asking you to do: share it, spread it, tell the world.
Thirdly, Boko Haram's abduction of the 276 Nigerian girls comes at a time of a global heightened sensitivity toward women's rights causes. Following such world news events as the horrific Delhi gang rape and in particular the Taliban's attempt on Malala Yousafzai's life, both in 2012, governments and IGOs have stepped up their focus on reducing a global education deficit. The UN Global Education First Initiative, established in 2012, seeks to put every child in the world in education by 2015. This is at odds with the ideals of Boko Haram (Boko Haram literally means 'Western education is sin') who have been known to target schools, killing and abducting teachers and students.
The #BringBackOurGirls campaign has helped to proliferate worldwide awareness of Boko Haram's ideals, and in turn forced the UN to take action against the group to avoid losing face and appearing impotent. The UN announced earlier this week that they would be imposing sanctions on Boko Haram; a symbolic gesture perhaps as the group lacks the kind of assets that the UN can realistically go after, but a gesture nonetheless.
Finally, support from celebrities and politicians; Michelle Obama in particular, has helped #BringBackOurGirls to gain incredible momentum. The First Lady's account tweeted the hashtag on May 7th, and pinned the tweet to the top of its feed. That tweet alone has since generated over 58,000 retweets. Angelina Jolie, Anne Hathaway, Amy Poehler, Leona Lewis, Cara Delevingne and Alicia Keys, to name a few, have all been instrumental in increasing the reach of the campaign on and offline, providing the catalyst for a sizable chunk of the 2 million mentions the hashtag has received and the billions of impressions it has made.
The chart below, courtesy of Brandwatch, shows the trend line for #BringBackOurGirls mentions.
The first hashtag mention was posted on 23 April. For the next few weeks the hashtag generated next to no buzz whatsoever until on 5 May it was tweeted by @CNN, @BBC, @Time and @PiersMorgan. On 7 May it was tweeted by @FLOTUS (Michelle Obama) and on 8 May by @TheEllenShow. The timing of the US Government's decision to deploy advisers to Nigeria (6 May) followed by troops (22 May) is no coincidence.
Some of the millions of individual mentions of #BringBackOurGirls might constitute Slacktivism; they may not be entirely altruistic; they may in fact be entirely for the benefit of the poster. But #BringBackOurGirls has propelled the recent kidnappings into a global limelight where previous Boko Haram activity has gone unchecked by governments and IGOs. In doing so, the hashtag campaign has helped to force the hand of both the US Government and the UN, and therefore, short of literally joining the search yourself; tweeting the hashtag may just have been the best thing that you could have done to help #BringBackOurGirls.
In the course of an eventful week which featured a military coup in Thailand and democratic local elections in England, a retired U. S. Army Colonel successfully devised and led "Operation American Spring," which restored the Constitution and freed the American people from their government's "despotic and tyrannical federal leadership."
Except that isn't quite what happened.
Despite fervent belief and a flood of farcical Facebook posts promising that ten to thirty million "patriots" would descend upon Washington D. C. and force the President and most of his Cabinet out of office, only about 460 showed up.
And as far as I am aware, Barack Obama has not yet resigned.
It would be really, really easy to take the piss out of this one; but I've now crossed America four times (first in 1989 and more recently in 2010, 2012 and 2013), I've met Republicans and Democrats, hung around in Greyhound bus stations in the wee small hours, admired the Lincoln memorial, crossed the Rockies and nearly fallen into the Grand Canyon. I like Starbucks, I'd say the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the world's most beautiful structures, and most of all I like the folks. They really are, as Christopher Meyer, Britain's former ambassador to the U. S., commented in DC Confidential, "this most generous and hospitable of peoples."
According to Theodore Roosevelt, the American identity includes, "strength, courage, energy, and undaunted and unwavering resolution," while British characters have a great tendency to take the piss out of each other in pubs. However, as I had experience of both cultures and American Facebook friends from both sides of the political divide, I decided it would be fair simply to wait and see how the Colonel's dream of an "American Spring" turned out.
I didn't really expect to wake up on Saturday 17th May to see headlines proclaiming SUCCESSFUL COUP IN AMERICA! OBAMA OVERTHROWN! NEW WORLD ORDER! but I did wonder if this march on Washington might have some echo of Martin Luther King's 1963 gathering. I do think the people should hold governments to account by peaceful protest and/or civil disobedience, I don't agree with right or left wing extremism that expresses itself in intolerance and ends in violence. The rebel becomes that which he himself (or she) professes to despise.
In the end, "Operation American Spring" turned out exactly as I'd expected. 460 people came along and the media had a bit of fun with them with tweets like:
It would be easy to satirize this, and there are indeed elements in American society whose attitudes make no sense to those of us on the other side of the pond. But it's important to remember how little Americans and Europeans understood each other's viewpoints up until quite recently. In the foreword to Alistair Cooke's wartime American Journey (written in 1945, lost and re-issued in 2005), the editor commented that "nobody in Britain had much more than the foggiest notion then what the Americans might bring to the war, or indeed what Americans were really like." Cooke's weekly radio programme, Letter From America, which ran from 1946 to 2004, helped bridge the gap; but it may only have been with the birth of the internet and the blossoming of Facebook that for the first time Britain, America and pretty much everyone else were being exposed to each other's culture courtesy of video, audio and real-time un-edited interaction.
I'm old enough to remember the cost and rarity of international phone calls forty years ago. Back then I only heard of American affairs via Weekend World, Panorama or the Nine O'Clock News. I have an unfocused memory of an old-timer wearing a baseball cap saying THANK GOD FOR AIDS or some such in a documentary about the American right wing, but most of my information about the U. S. trickled through via traditional broadcasters' filters, Charlie's Angels and DC Comics.
It's a bit different now, and therein lies the rub. For America is still the world's only hyperpower and of colossal global importance. Thirty years ago, comment on an event like "American Spring" would have been confined to the inside pages of hard-copy broadsheets or quiet lampooning in Punch, and that would have been that.
Not today. Today we get shares and comments direct from some American citizens which liken Obama to Hitler and suggest he was not born in Honolulu...
So let's be as honest, unwavering and resolute as Roosevelt might have been about the outcome of "American Spring." The operation had its chance and it failed utterly. It was pretty stupid and rather embarrassing, both for the people involved and to some extent (I would argue), for the country as a whole. As the BBC's North America correspondent Mark Mardell said re the recent U. S. political brinkmanship over Obamacare, "governing by lurching from crisis to crisis, clutching a hostage, does not improve America's image in the eyes of the world."
America and the Americans are now under swift and new scrutiny via ultramodern social media, so (traditional and archaic as it may sound) I'd suggest true patriotism includes the obligation to remember you're representing your country, culture and values when you post online.
What you write will be there forever. Once the world was blind, but now it can see.
James Christie is the author of Dear Miss Landau. He was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, a mild form of autism, at the age of 37 in 2002. He lives in the Scottish Borders.
Did anyone ever think that Bill Clinton, perhaps the greatest politician of our time, even rivaling LBJ, would ever go "gently into that good night"?
Not a chance!
The youngest Governor in the US at the time from the State of Arkansas - "Thank God for Mississippi"- has always had more political DNA running through his veins than anyone can imagine.
WJC now seems to be in his element, relishing the fact that GOP hitman-in-chief Karl Rove has thrown down his chain-mailed gauntlet and gone after his beloved Hillary, questioning her health and ability to serve as president.
Hillary's other defenders chalk it up as just another attempt to flood the "echo chamber" of divisiveness and hate... par for the course as things start to heat up and Hillary's new book "Hard Choices" hits the books shelves - already available on Amazon this week.
And what a month it has been for Hills.
Benghazi has resurfaced with the release of additional e-mails from The White House and yet another Congressional investigation is getting underway.
Alas! Here comes the icing on the cake, for those who make a living from this stuff.
Just when we all thought it was safe to go back in the water - MONICA IS BACK trying for a chance at redemption and another extended 15 minutes in the spotlight resurrecting her ill fated tryst with former President Bill.
All of this could be both good news and bad news for the so far un-declared candidate.
It could mean that all of the skeletons are out of closet a very long time before 2016 and by then it will simply be old news that no one really cares about.
The bad news is that the GOP Opposition Research nerds are in full gear, primed to uncover even more stuff that Team Hillary must deal with even if she decides NOT to run!
Let's face it! The Republicans are scared to death of Hillary Rodham Clinton if she does decide to run.
Aside from the fact that Hillary would be a formidable candidate, there are a lot of other good reasons they are shaking in their boots already.
If Hillary decides to run her team including "The Big Guy" aka "Elvis" will make sure she runs unopposed - no primary challengers.
Although this could be a mixed blessing, since it has been a while since Hillary has been on the debate stage - going head to head with Barack Obama back in 2008.
On the plus side it would mean she has plenty of time to raise lots and lots of money across the country and focus on making her case to the American voter while the numerous Republican Candidates - Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Rick Perry, Jeb Bush, etc. - rip each other to shreds in adds, debates, primaries and caucuses.
I am sure the Republican candidates and strategists have taken note, assessing the damage done to Mitt Romney in 2012 when he emerged as their Presidential Candidate - bruised and battered beyond repair by the endless debate season.
Although Hillary's age could be something of an issue.
As the charming Ronald Reagan did, she is more than capable of turning the so-called age issue to her advantage.
After all it was Reagan who famously quipped in his presidential debate against Minnesota Democratic Senator Walter Mondale - saying that he would not make age an issue in the campaign; "I will not exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience."
Hillary would be the most experienced, high powered, highly identifiable woman who has ever run for the presidency.
She has been, the Secretary of State, a US Senator from the State of New York, The First Lady of the United States and of the State of Arkansas.
Hillary is a thoughtful and engaging "wonk."
This leaves little doubt that her domestic and foreign policy ideas will be well thought out and carefully crafted to appeal to the broad specturm of voters.
If she runs she is likely to all but own the female vote because young and older women alike believe it is well beyond time for this change.
America is decades and even centuries behind in acknowledging a women as a great leader.
After all there was Cleopatra, Ruler of Egypt, Eleanor of Aquitane, First Queen of France, Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth II, Indira Gandhi first female PM of India, Golda Meir first female PM of Israel, Margaret Thatcher, first female PM of Great Britain, Benazir Bhutto, first female PM of Pakistan - a Muslim Country - and the list goes on!
Appealling to women voters is already a challenge for the Republican Party and Hillary as a candidate would make this an insurmountable task.
It is hard to see Hillary's national book tour for Hard Choices as anything but a dry run for her candidacy.
Some say Hillary is "sucking all the air out of room" and it is unlikely that any other Democrat will take a serious stab at the 2016 nomination until she makes her intentions known.
The likes of Elizabeth Warren, Brian Schweitzer, Martin O'Malley, Andrew Cuomo, Kirsten Gillibrand, and even "Veep" Joe Biden seem reluctant to engage the "Clinton Machine".
Then of course there is Bill who probably wants this more for Hillary than she does for herself.
One can only imagine the plans Bill has as "First Man" in The White House"... Michelle's Oval Office drapes may have to go.
Number 42 is a formidable opponent and is clearly anxious to get back into the game!
In fact, he is already out there using his star power to help Democrats raise lots of dough in the 2014 Midterms and collecting political "I Owe Yous" for Hillary's possible 2016 run.
So although only Hillary's 'hairdresser,' hubby, daughter and inner circle know for sure, my money is on "a run for the roses" for this thoroughbred contender.
Years from now while scanning the roster of American Presidents our great grandchildren may pass the names Adams, Harrison, Roosevelt and Bush and stop at number 42 - William Jefferson Clinton and 45 - Hillary Rodham Clinton and say; "Hey look! Here are two more with the same name - Clinton."
Perhaps one day, years from now a grandmother with her own grandkids in tow, takes to the stage at the Democratic National Convention and introduces herself:
"Hi I'm Chelsea Clinton and both my parents were President of the United States."
Whether you've Instagrammed a #nomakeupselfie, Tweeted #bringbackourgirls or mourned for the #missingplane, no doubt you've felt a small sense of satisfaction in advancing a worthy cause. You've 'raised awareness' in trending a particular issue that has fleetingly grasped the attention of the public and now you can happily put the kettle on, get on with your day and avoid the pang of guilt that gnaws away at Western civilisation every time we confront a news flash of war-torn Syria, terror-struck Nigeria or the turbulent Ukraine.
But the danger of the hashtag is the accompanying sense that the hashtagger has 'done their bit' in a humanitarian crisis. No need to submit a monetary donation, volunteer for a charity or arrange a fundraiser like the good old days; the beauty of social media means that you just have to press a key and you've made somebody's life that little bit better.
But have you? Certainly social media has its benefits. Raising awareness to an issue is instrumentally important; new outlets pounce on Twitter trends and gear their stories to what they understand to be the most compelling topics of the time. This accumulation of press coverage could ultimately lead to what is commonly known as the 'CNN Effect'; studies have shown that mass media has the power to set the agenda at policy level. It's easy for politicians to ramp up their approval ratings by latching onto a public concern 'gone viral' and attempting to at least be seen to do something about it. It is no mistake that 25 countries joined the hunt for the #missingplane, or that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry vowed to take up his pitchfork and #bringbackourgirls. Kidnappings and other atrocities have been rampant in Nigeria for years thanks to the extremist group Boko Haram, but it's tricky to capture pervasive and deep-rooted cultural unrest in a hashtag.
We must concede, of course, that our aim is ultimately political, otherwise all we are doing is raising awareness for awareness's sake. This would imply a grotesque fetishism with the sufferings of others, akin to the public obsession with celebrity news which seeps from the right hand side of the Daily Mail online onto millions of Facebook pages. No, we must concede - for dignity's sake if nothing else - that the hashtag has a political motive.
But the irony is, by satisfying ourselves that a hashtag is enough activism for one day, what can we expect from the politicians we are supposedly trying to coerce? We criticise our government, foreign governments and the United Nations for being all talk and no action. US president Barack Obama has been denounced for his false promise to close Guantanamo Bay and the legal vacuum that his predecessor created with it. Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has been despised for promising an easier ride for students before backing the Conservatives' decision to triple university fees. Prime minister David Cameron has been laughed at for announcing that he would end the human rights violations in Syria, only to be outvoted by his own Parliament. But if a hashtag is enough for us voters, we can hardly criticise our leaders for settling for empty speeches.
There can only be two possible reasons for the rise of hashtag activism. Either we don't care about these issues enough and are thus too lazy to take 'real action', opting instead to make a visible stand just so our friends know we read the news. Or we truly believe that a hashtag can change the world. If the former, we are no better than the politicians we are half-heartedly criticising. If the latter, we can log off, get dressed for work and rest assured that Boko Haram are checking their Twitter feed and feeling suitably ashamed of themselves.
The world of politics can be a murky and often nasty place, full of smears, slander and sinister skullduggery.
Take the current coalition - not the most comfortable bedfellows at the best of times but the relationship soured further over the weekend with allegations of back-stabbing and tale-telling.
What makes the latest accusations all the more vicious is they concern not only politicians but also their wives.
First up was Nick Clegg's wife, Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, who was drawn into a row over a charity she backs which was apparently fast-tracked £12m from the deputy prime minister.
Clegg of course denies the claims and even threatened a police investigation.
Then it was David Cameron's turn in the spotlight after the Lib Dems allegedly tried to plant a story in the press about the poor state of his marriage.
A 'Tory insider' told the Daily Mail: "Significant Lib Dems have been spreading a totally baseless story suggesting trouble in the Cameron marriage."
Anyway, this would seem to be the perfect time to have a good old reminisce about some of the best political smears of recent years, from both sides of the Atlantic...
First Lady Michelle Obama backed efforts to rescue more than 270 teenage girls who had been abducted by the Boko Haram terrorist group last month, posting a photo on Twitter holding up a sign reading: "#BringBackOurGirls".
Obama's support for the hashtag campaign supporting efforts to rescue the girls in Nigeria was wittily inverted on Twitter by user Kai Holloway to make a sobering point about US drone strikes around the world.
This comes after a study in 2012 found that the CIA's drone campaign, which has escalated under Obama, "terrorises men, women and children" in north-west Pakistan "twenty-four hours a day".
The report, by Stanford University and New York University undermined US government's claims that drone strikes in Pakistan make America safer as it found that only very few of the intended targets are killed and instead resulted in high civilian casualties, including 176 children.
I have just returned from an unforgettable journey to Africa. Yet the return is bittersweet, as I have come home to the reports that hundreds of Nigerian girls have been abducted from their schools.
A school, an education, these are things we here in the UK, both female and male, can take for granted. For many kids it is a place of safety and friendship, it was for me. But for these girls, school has turned into a place of danger and fear. And Africa is in the headlines again, not for the lush beauty and overwhelming hospitality that I felt in Zimbabwe recently, but for cruel acts of violence and hate inflicted on women and children. It is a double cruelty this time, as the women and children are one in the same, the girls being aged anywhere from 12 to 18.
So, this morning I have been changing my profile pictures on my social networking sites; joining petitions and watching the news intently to find out what the world communities are doing about this terrible crime perpetrated against innocent girls. All the while I hashtag #BringBackOurGirls to try and link in with the world outcry that is now developing, which I hope continues to grow louder and louder.
Like most concerned people, when events like this happen, at first I feel sickened; then I start to feel outraged; then somewhat helpless, as I start to question the effectiveness of status updates in the battle against such criminal actions. Sometimes I have to concede that only high powered intervention from the likes of Obama and Cameron may be of any use. (I would love to see some statistics on how much impact the voices of the social networking community have on the activity of world leaders. However, I may never know.) But while such social avenues exist, let us use them anyway, because you just never know who might be listening. And I suppose, in some ways we, as a world community, act as the voices of these girls, who are somewhere in the wilderness, unable to speak themselves. If they could speak, they would probably say what we are saying: 'save us', '#BringBackOurGirls'.
So, that being said, I have found a couple of sites which offer guidance on getting involved. You can visit www.facebook.com/bringbackourgirls, where there is a list of suggestions on how we can all get involved. For the UK they have a link to a government petition, where we can urge parliament to get talking about the situation: epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/64170 (although, I wonder how much time this will take). Obama is already on the move, having now dispatched a collection of legal and military representatives to Nigeria. This is a positive step, but we mustn't get complacent.
In short, we need to get moving and we need to talk, pray, petition and protest. I have signed the petition, and I hope others will too. In the meantime, I am off to try to find more ways to keep helping.
One of the most interesting aspects of George Osborne's last UK budget announcement was the £42 million funding for the Alan Turing Institute. This organisation has been founded to ensure that the UK is able to lead the way in the important high-tech growth areas of big data and computing algorithms.
These are big news in the world of technology, although not everyone may be aware of them yet - but if not, they soon will be! These two technologies are quietly changing lives and providing incredible innovations that have affected everyone who has ever searched the web, bought something from an online store, or been tempted to click on a website offering something that 'other readers/buyers also enjoyed'...
Big data - big business - big benefits
Big data means what is says, it's all about the use of really large amounts of data, which could come from any source. Big data sources encompass things like a city's mobile phones location and use, tracked by the network operator, sales made in a supermarket over a year, or financial transactions and customer records. Many, many pieces of data can yield incredibly useful insights, if they can be found, analysed and got to the people who need it. It's all about learning new facts, trends and making predictions based on massive amounts of data - making them understandable and usable.
Big data is big business, and sifting through data better than rivals is part of what made Tesco, eBay and Amazon retail powerhouses, and it's helping in all sorts of fields to make better decisions, from the world of finance and banking to medical labs engaged in cutting-edge healthcare research.
Algorithms - your little helper
Algorithms are one of the lesser-known tools that have come to run the world. Using the smartest algorithms has powered Google's search success, helps people find love through dating websites and allows pension funds investing on the stock market to make the best and fastest trades - often now without human involvement in the process of buying and selling.
Smart algorithms help us narrow down our best choices in a world of big data, too much information and too little time. They are little sets of instructions that helps us automate decision making processes, saving time and money by speeding up processes and making connections.
From big data to better business decisions
The government intends the Alan Turing Institute to help British businesses by bringing together expertise and experience in tackling challenges demanding huge computational power. This is cutting-edge research that is open to any country to take the lead in - so it's great that the UK intends to be a leader these technologies.
Other countries have also been investigating the gains that such technologies can provide - In 2012, Obama's US administration announced a Big Data Research and Development Initiative.
In a world of almost ubiquitous and incredibly accessible computing hardware, it is computing intelligence that forms the next innovation battleground. Technology is already in pervasive use in business, society and the public sector - the challenge is in how we use its data in new and smart ways for the best results. Smarter computing through tools like big data and algorithmic technologies that will enable business leaders to elevate their own innovation and success to the next level.
For those firms with a considerable amount of historic data, from sales and transactions, or access to social media content, census data or sensor-generated information (like seismographs), the promise is that by carefully sifting through data regarding customers, the market, price points - or future earthquakes! - hidden truths will be uncovered. And for those with the technical and statistical skills to work with big data technologies, to create algorithms and to make magic with numbers, future employment prospects are very bright!
These trends are providing insights to help improve sales, determine quality of research, improve drugs, prevent diseases, provide better utilities, fight crime, and better plan city traffic and public services. Yet we are only scratching the surface of what is possible.
Big data entrepreneurs - come forward!
It's a good time to be an entrepreneur with an eye on the world of data possibilities. The market is still open for a disruptor to change the way we do business and open up new worlds from the rapidly growing pool of old and new data.
Add the power of big data and algorithms to cloud computing solutions that allow businesses to stay agile and create new services in an instant and we're getting a recipe for a very new kind of service business.
We live in a digital and connected world, and it's so encouraging to see how the UK is looking to the future to be part of the leading wave of cutting-edge technology.
The Centre for Economics and Business Research estimates that the big data marketplace could benefit the UK economy by £216 billion and create 58,000 new jobs in the UK before 2017. Furthermore, a recent report from Deloitte estimates that the direct value of public sector information alone to the UK economy is around £1.8 billion per year, with wider social and economic benefits bringing this up to around £6.8 billion, the government mentioned when they announced the new institute.
Hopefully, our current and budding data-savvy and hyper-connected entrepreneurs are taking notice. If the government is willing to invest in the technology the world of business should see that there's a real opportunity behind the IT terminology. Data is a resource - just like renewable energy - and it's there to be used! Get inspired and check out the data your software creates.
We as a culture are just too busy with our own very important lives to even think about the possibility of another world war.
We all have simply to much to do to even contemplate the disruption to our lives that the winds of another world war would cause.
Most of the planet wasn't even around when World War II ended in Europe on May 8, 1945 and finally on the deck of the USS Missouri on September 2, a few months later, when the Japanese Foreign Affairs Minister signed the Japanese Instrument of Surrender rendering Japan and her Emperor Hirohito at the mercy of their conquerer the US of A.
It seems while one is in the middle of living history it is often hard to grasp the significance of individual events.
For example, at the time British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlin signed the Munich Agreement ceding the Sudetenland to Germany I am sure he believed that he secured "peace in our time" for Great Britain, Europe and the world.
Unfortunately, history tells us otherwise since the Munich Agreement did not prevent World War II.
In fact, it was a major miscalculation sending the wrong signal to a voracious leader with insatiable designs to conquer the world.
Most scholars now believe had the world acted forcefully when Hitler annexed Austria in 1938, that might have been the end of the Chancellor's ambitions.
As the new "Czar of Russia," former KGB Colonel Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin continues to push his own version of Civil War General Sherman's "March to the Sea," the world continues to remain distracted with other important issues.
President Obama is on a long delayed trip abroad in Asia focusing on a US pivot toward the nations of the region designed to strengthen US ties there and keep China in check.
Although no nation or generation wishes for war, sometimes the challenges to peaceful coexistence posed by an individual bad actor leave the community of nations no other choice.
This is why nations in the past have joined together in alliances and organizations to promote peace through collective security.
Since the end of World War II certain enemies have miraculously managed to keep the peace through a system of deterrents and mutual defense treaties.
NATO, The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was one of these collective security alliances.
In 1949 there were 12 founding members of NATO - Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States.
NATO is a military alliance committed to the principle that an attack against any one or several of its members is an attack against all - this principle is enshrined in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty.
Six years after the establishment of NATO the Soviet Union and its affiliated nations in Eastern Europe formed a rival alliance called the Warsaw Pact.
Today the Warsaw Pact is gone just like the USSR.
Almost all of its former membership are now members of NATO or they are working toward that goal.
For President Putin the end of the Soviet Union was a tragic moment in his nation's history.
He believes it is his destiny to redress this wrong.
Its is easy to see that the break-up of the Soviet Union and the end of the Warsaw Pact has left Russia in a much less powerful place in the world community.
This loss of power and influence is clearly one of the reasons that Putin wants to re-establish the power and prestige that once belonged to the former Soviet Union of Lenin and Stalin.
Until recently it looked like Russia was headed in a new but equally powerful direction with its membership in the G8, the World Trade Organization and its integration into the world financial community.
What is not so clear is why Putin chose this time and place to jeopardize this rather positive integration with the West.
Its easy to understand "Mother Russia's" desire for a close relationship with Ukraine for historical, cultural, economic and geographic reasons.
What is not so clear is why Putin would behave so aggressively by invading and annexing Crimea and occupying portions of eastern Ukraine thus forcing a complete disconnection from the West.
Perhaps Putin's version of "Anschluss" - his repatriation of all Russian speaking people in Ukraine, the Baltics and Europe - might also include sending his troops to Brighton Beach Brooklyn where many Soviet era Russian emigres live peaceful and prosperous life as American citizens.
It is clear that the US and its European Allies had no stomach to go to war over Putin's annexation of Crimea...and Putin knew that!
It is equally clear that this Ukraine aggression cannot go unchecked or unpunished.
President Theodore Roosevelt summed it up nicely - it was important to "Speak softly but carry a big stick."
TR knew the importance of diplomacy but also knew that it could only work when those who wished you ill feared your military might.
President Obama has taken the military option "off the table" and the remaining arrows in his quiver seem to be various versions of sanctions.
While in "Rootin Tootin Putin's" quiver his arrows are poison tipped in the form of massive Ukraine intimidation, media-attracting master strokes, thousands of Russian troops - some already in Ukraine and the rest poised on its boarders.
Least we forget Putin's nuclear silos filled to the brim - casting impending gloom over anyone paying attention.
Although the ominous situation in Ukraine directly affects the EU, it is not clear is how much economic pain the US, UK and the EU are willing and able to endure to send a clear and powerful message to Putin that it is time to retreat.
The White House round two of sanctions against Russia are designed to inflict personal pain on 7 Russian Government Officials and 17 Entities.
Their assets will be frozen and US persons cannot do business with them.
It is expected that the US's partners will do the same.
Although these sanctions will undoubtedly cause problems and pain for these individuals and entities in a world where the dollar is still the number one currency in international trade, they are far from crippling.
Most experts believe that only sanctions affecting wide sectors of the Russian economy like gas and oil, finance and the military are likely to have the desired effect.
The problem here is that the price of implementing this type of wide-reaching sector sanctions may be too much to bear for the still fragile economies of the EU.
In fairness the US is not willing to go it alone on tougher sanctions without the UK and the EU.
This makes sense since without their participation these broader sanctions would be ineffective.
Following its integration with the West, Russia has become a huge economic player.
Russia is the world's 8th largest economy.
Russia supplies the EU with 30% of its gas; the US has approximately $27 billion worth of trade with Russia and approximately $292 billion of Russia's exports are with the EU.
It is also possible that imposing serious sector sanctions could result in pushing the EU back into recession and the US and the UK along with it, which is why it is so difficult to form a coalition of the willing at this time.
Although, the sanctions that are currently in place have already had some effects - damaging the Russian Stock Market and reducing its credit rating -they seem to have had little or no effect on Putin's plans for Ukraine and possibly beyond.
If the US, UK and EU cannot agree on imposing the toughest sanctions, it is not clear where we go from here if Putin fails to back down.
In the US it is a political year with Mid-Term Elections just a few months away followed by the next Presidential Election cycle.
As a result, politicians from both sides of the aisle are mindful that the American public is war weary and believe that America gets very little long term rewards for expending its blood and treasure.
In the UK elections are a year away.
In Germany Chancellor Merkel has just been re-elected and will, by the way, be President Obama's guest at The White House on Friday.
In France, Presidential Elections are not scheduled until 2017.
President Putin, on the other hand, could possibly be in power until 2024 - out lasting all the current leaders in the West and giving him plenty of time to execute a long term re-unification plan.
That being said, unless Putin has a change of heart the US, the UK and the EU may need to take a real stand to preserve the peace or risk facing a greater world challenge down the road.
Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond has given an insight into his views on world leaders, including some admiration for Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Salmond said he admires "certain aspects" of Putin - but does not approve of a range of Russian actions - in an interview with Alastair Campbell, the former Labour strategy director, given on March 14.
He offered the view as Russia was being accused of military aggression over the future of Crimea, which it has since annexed, in neighbouring Ukraine.
Salmond singled out German chancellor Angela Merkel for praise, saying she is "pretty effective".
And he remarked that while he admires US president Barack Obama's campaigning, he wondered why he could not have "done more".
Asked about Putin, Salmond said: "Well, obviously, I don't approve of a range of Russian actions, but I think Putin's more effective than the press he gets I would have thought, and you can see why he carries support in Russia."
Pressed on whether he admires the Russian leader, the First Minister said: "Certain aspects. He's restored a substantial part of Russian pride and that must be a good thing. There are aspects of Russian constitutionality and the inter-mesh with business and politics that are obviously difficult to admire. Russians are fantastic people, incidentally, they are lovely people."
He spoke warmly of Merkel.
"I think the German Chancellor is pretty effective. Some chancellors have been unwilling to use German authority. She is not in that mould," he said.
Closer to home, he said Ukip leader Nigel Farage has a "certain bonhomie" - but said it is "not enough".
Salmond continued: "He is having influence beyond his significance so you have to admire that. There is a constituency for saloon-bar politics and he has played it out. I have a sneaking regard for anyone who takes on powerful establishments."
On more domestic issues, Salmond said he expects turnout in the Scottish independence referendum to be around 75% or higher.
The Scottish National Party leader also underlined his commitment to securing a currency union with the rest of the UK and talked about the Scottish Government's attempt to tackle the country's relationship with alcohol.
A spokesman for the First Minister said: "The First Minister was very happy to take part in an interview for GQ - one of the best-read magazines in the country - and was perfectly happy with it being conducted by Alistair Campbell.
"The interview was conducted on March 14 but the First Minster correctly forecast that the Yes campaign was gaining ground in campaign and argument. This has been confirmed subsequently by all recent polls."
A spokesman for the First Minster said the interview was conducted before the annexation of the Crimea.
"Since then, the Scottish Government has made our position abundantly clear on the illegal annexation, including the decision to withdraw the invitation to the Russian Consul General to the annual Scottish Consular Corps dinner," he said.
Scottish Labour's external affairs spokeswoman Patricia Ferguson said: "Given he shares Nigel Farage's politics of division and grievance, it's hardly a surprise that the First Minister has found common ground with the Ukip Leader.
"But his comments about Vladmir Putin are insensitive and ill-judged given the precarious situation in Ukraine.
"For Scotland's First Minister to admit his admiration for someone with such a controversial record on human rights and democracy does not reflect well on our country."
Scottish Conservatives MSP Jackson Carlaw said: "Putin is keen on suppressing the media and political opposition, so it's no wonder Alex Salmond admires him.
"This is quite an embarrassing ramble from the First Minister, who is desperate to be seen as some kind of equal to global leaders.
"It also makes a mockery of the Scottish Government's faux outrage over the Crimea situation. The people of Scotland will see through this most recent sucking up offensive."
Obviously, unless you do literally live on Mars, you will be aware of how much politicians love to have a photograph with someone. Be it chatting to patients of a local hospital before it's closed down, or shaking hands with Vladimir Putin before trying to persuade him not to turn the gas off. There seems to be a common principle amongst politicians that the more photos they have with people the more votes they will get.
There is, of course, a very simply reason for this: they want to look like they are connected to the real world. In posing for a photograph with a member of the public, politicians want to try and prove that they definitely do not spend their time being taken out to dine in expensive restaurants by owners of multimillion pound companies who are desperate to avoid paying any more tax.
But do they realise how stupid they make themselves look?
During the unforgettable floods at the start of the year, Ed Miliband (along with what seemed like every other MP in the country) was photographed standing in floodwater wearing an expression that looked so ridiculous it could have come from the 1960s series of Batman. But even before that there was his hilariously awkward photo with Lily Allen, showing that the Labour leader hadn't learnt his lesson when it came to embarrassing photos.
More recently, George Osborne was seen looking terrifying as he stared through a café window at the people who were trying to enjoy their drinks inside. Perhaps he couldn't understand why one of them appears to be laughing. Then David Cameron felt the need to upload a picture of himself using a telephone, seemingly immensely honoured to be speaking to US President Barack Obama. Oh, and not forgetting Grant Shapps who showed that he has absolutely no idea of how to use Twitter by uploading a photo of himself upside down.
Then there's the selfie - a craze that's surprisingly still with us. People across the world continue to revel in taking snaps of themselves looking either beautiful or brutal; millions of pounds was raised for Cancer Research UK by a no-makeup selfie trend; and there's even a frankly awful (although still chart-topping) song called "Selfie".
The selfie provided politicians with another perfect opportunity to present themselves as down-to-earth, modern individuals.
Indeed, last December Barack Obama, David Cameron and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt took what looked like a very good selfie of themselves. There was just one problem - it was at Nelson Mandela's memorial service, probably not the most appropriate time for a selfie.
And even as recently this week David Cameron took an entirely unflattering selfie with a group of girls which earned him his daily dose of mockery. Personally, I think he looks like he's trying to eat a hot chip.
So, the message to politicians is clear: stop trying to look stylish and cool in photos. With elections on the way, being photographed wearing a clown costume probably isn't going to win you many votes. Although you think that you look either intelligent or with-it, the reality is that you don't.