Morality 2.0
4 min read

Morality 2.0

Nick Carr did a thought-provoking psychoanlysis of my original MySpace post (the one that caused such a dust storm). He argues that I shouldn’t have shied away for the morality of the issue.

What’s most fascinating about Karp’s post, though, is not his reaction to MySpace but his reaction to his reaction to MySpace. Having offered a moral critique – a visceral one – he suddenly goes all wobbly.

Moral critiques are so uncool. They’re the surest way to lose your web cred.

Indeed. Much as I tried to shy away from the moral questions, they came after me with a vengeance — I became a foil for the anti-moralizer moralizers.

I hadn’t previously considered myself a “moralizer” — quite the opposite — I’m very wary of the term “morality” because its use as a political weapon has nearly emptied it of meaning — and issues of “your morality” vs “my morality” and how much morality is too much morality (or not enough) are pure quicksand.

Perhaps this reflects a lack of courage on my part. But reading some of the morally facile arguments and hypocritcally extreme perspectives that surfaced in response to my post has strengthened my conviction (and perhaps my courage — that remains to be seen).

I am bothered by those who see themselves on the left side of the issue who go into a panic and cry “fascism” in response to ANY discussion of morality. This is pure hypocrisy, because it is the same type of unconstructively extreme position that these critics claim to be railing against. My instinct is always to seek middle ground, but that is typically a losing proposition.

Believe it or not, I’m a born-and-bred Blue State liberal (I grew up in Queens, NY) — I’m typically pro-civil liberties, pro-1st amendment, etc. So if you’re having problems with my critique, well, this is flowers and sunshine compared to what you’ll get from redder corners of the country.

(You can see some of the “morality” debate in the comments on Nick’s post and in comments on the multiple posts that Chartreuse did.)

That all said, I’d like to get back to the issue of how morality impacts MySpace (and Web 2.0) as a BUSINESS, which is what I originally had in mind when I went off on the rant — Nick accused me of phoning in that business analysis, and maybe he’s right (although I’m sure he instinctively found the “morality” question more interesting). Nick passed along this CNET article, which pretty well validates my argument about the risks to MySpace’s business.

This is priceless:

Now playing: “Lovely girls from Chile show off their upskirt flavor in the school’s courtyard.” Sponsored by Apple Computer and AT&T.

Earlier this week, that was the actual pitch for a video that’s available on the “Girls Girls Girls” playlist at the popular iFilm Web site, complete with advertisements for the new MacBook Pro and AT&T’s broadband service.

Those weren’t the only companies sponsoring the video, which shows a parade of apparently high-school-age girls in skirts walking up to and over a shoe-top video camera. After clicking on the thumbnail image, a media player window pops up, displaying the video, which is labeled “mature” on the site. Next to the images is an ad for Comcast that blurts, “It’s Comcastic!”

Informed of the juxtaposition of the ads and the video, and other ad-and-video juxapositions of arguably dubious taste on a second Web site, AT&T said it was looking into the matter.

“AT&T has advertising policies to ensure our ads are placed in appropriate mediums consistent with the company’s brand,” AT&T said in a statement. “It appears the sites in question were part of a large buy vs. a specific target. To date, we’ve had no complaints or concerns. We are reviewing these sites, and if we determine that it is an inappropriate placement, we will discontinue advertising on those sites.”

Apple declined to comment.

So let’s walk through argument:

  1. Big brand advertisers, e.g. AT&T, Apple, control A LOT of the ad dollars in play online — these dollars are essential to the de facto ad-driven business models of Web 2.0 companies, including MySpace and Google (pending any real innovation on the business model front).

  2. Big brand advertisers are VERY protective of their brands:

“For Verizon corporate and the wireline business, I can report that our agencies must conform to very strict company guidelines about where any of our ads appear in any media,” Jim Smith, director of Verizon media relations, wrote in an e-mail. “When our online ad orders are placed, the insertion orders that we have with network partners are explicit as to prohibitions against appearing in the context of sexual, political or hate content.”

  1. User-generated/Web 2.0 sites like MySpace that cannot guarantee a “safe” environment for these advertisers will NOT get these big brand ad dollars.

If anyone comments on this post, I can guarantee you that some responses will be centered on the theme of “this is nothing new” or “we’ve already dealt with this.” A few preemptive questions:

First, are AOL chatrooms (a frequent example) currently a thriving commercial propositions for Time Warner?

Second, isn’t the innovation of Web 2.0 that users are now creating and controlling content? Will Big Brands ever be willing to cede full control of brand management in a world of user-controlled media? (Not whether they SHOULD, but whether they WILL.)

Third, didn’t Google AdWords teach us that context matters A LOT? Will advertisers flock to MySpace just because they have the audience, REGARDLESS of the context?

Now, just a moment while I open up my Kevlar browser — okay, fire away.