The Kettle, Snatch Squads and the Swarm: the power of a tactic

Over the past few decades the police have developed a tactic to contain protests, which has become known as kettling. This involves forming a circle around the protest, then gradually closing in to restrict the territory occupied by the protesters. This cordon forms a stranglehold on the protest, restricting and containing the protest for hours, until finally being allowed to go home.

 

This tactic has been subject to accusations of human rights abuse and several court actions has been taken in an attempt to ban the practice. However, despite protesters claims to being held without charge for hours with no facilities, food, water or access to medical services or even toilet facilities, the courts ruled that the practice was legal due to the potential for violence.

 

What makes the tactic so effective isn’t just the ability to contain the protest but also the psychological effect. Being contained in this way for hours on end is not only demoralising but also creates a disincentive to participate.

 

During the student tuition fees protest in 2010 the kettling tactic failed when the thin blue line was broken, resulting in students taking over and trashing several government buildings. After which the police added, what became known as ‘snatch squads’ to the kettling tactic. This involved identifying protesters who posed the greatest threat. Then small groups of police officers in full riot gear (the snatch squad) would break into the protest group towards the target.

 

In the final days of the 2010 protests, the protest became fractured as students tried to evade containment. The protest broke into several small blocks. With some becoming total chaos with individuals charging around the streets of London getting totally lost. One reporter noted that ‘it feels like a game of ‘kiss chase’ – or, when I see a policeman punch a boy out of the way, entirely without provocation, ‘punch chase’.

 

The tuition fees protests were repeated again in 2014, when the government proposed an increase in tuition fees. The first few days followed the usual predictable routine – Kettling, violence, groups breaking off, claims of disproportionate use of force etc. But several days into the protest the tactics changed. Many of the students adopted a hit and run tactic. Where small groups would meet at random locations, followed by a flash protest, disrupting traffic etc. then scattering when the police turn up, blending into the crowd. At times, the police were forced to admit that they had no idea where the protest was taking place. The tactic was effective, not only because of the confusion, but also because the ratio of police to protesters needed to contain the protesters was vastly different to that of kettling. With kettling, a relatively small number of police are able to contain vast numbers of protesters. Only those protesters around the periphery of the circle are in conflict with the police. The majority are inactive. But with a hit and run tactic the ratio of police to protesters needs to be much more even to be effective.

 

These tactics are surprisingly not new. Such tactics have been used by the military for centuries. With the kettling vs hit-and-run scenario resembling the Anglo-Saxon shield wall vs the Celtic skirmishing tactics.

 

The Extinction Rebellion

The Extinction Rebellion seem to have improved upon the hit-and-run tactic with the more typical environmental tactics they’ve used over the years to protect areas of habitat etc. In what has become known as a ‘Swarm’ protest, protesters meet simultaneously at a particular location. The try to occupy the location, either by sheer number or by gluing or chaining themselves etc to the location. The kettling tactic seems to have had very limited success against the Extinction Rebellion. With the police at a complete loss on how to deal with the situation. The protesters have had a stranglehold on London with the ability to practically close down parts of the city at will. And only ended after the protesters decision to do so.

 

Impact

The protesters have elevated environmental issues to a much higher position on the political agenda. With MP’s endorsing Jeremy Corbyn’s call to declare a formal climate and environment emergency. As well as committing to kick-start a ‘green industrial revolution’ with the development of new technology as well as changes to transport, agriculture etc.

However, environmental activists aren’t the only stakeholders with a beef with the government, or even possibly the largest or angriest. With police action shown to be so impotent to protest and the support for the government at an all-time low, and such deep division within society, could we be in for a year of rage and protest?

 

 Universal Credit – ‘Families are ‘being made homeless’ by Universal Credit- but its rollout continues’ Manchester evening news
 Housing – Housing Crisis: Are cities unaffordable?
 Homelessness  – ‘Number of homeless people sleeping on streets in England hits highest level on record’ – The Independent
  Police Cuts– ‘Police failing to properly investigate quarter of thefts and assaults after years of cuts, inspectors find’ – The Independent
 Schools – Teachers ‘paying for resources out of own money’ – BBC.co.uk
 Childhood Poverty – ‘Headteacher Judy Shaw: ‘My staff are fantastic but they can’t fight poverty’ – The Guardian.
 Privatisation  – ‘Public ownership is popular’ – weownit.org.uk
 Poverty – ‘Poverty causing ‘misery’ in UK, and ministers are in denial, says UN official’ – BBC.co.uk

 

Is a regulated Facebook viable?

Our honeymoon period with Facebook is now well and truly at an end. The rose-tinted glasses are peeling, and we’re finally seeing exactly who we’ve married and plan to spend the rest of our days with. Social media is no longer a new product/concept, its novelty gone. And has been for some time. It’s well and truly integrated into the structural fabric of our society. And yet their still granted greater latitude of freedom in terms of accountability and regulation than other sectors of business and society. At some point the ‘wild west’ has to be tamed, regulated and held to account for the consequences of their actions.

So what level of accountability should be applied to Facebook and social media in comparison to other sectors of society? And what are the issues?

Media vs Phone Company

One issue is when a person is slandered in public, who’s responsible and liable for damages? If classed as a publisher, facebook would be personally responsible for its content. And could be sued for slander. Whereas phone companies, search engines etc. are not personally liable for its content. Liability here lies with the person producing the content. Facebook is unusual as a business because its content is itself produced by its customers and the general public. And no matter how thoroughly its being moderated, if held to the same regulations as a publication, it probably couldn’t survive with such regulations. If for nothing else, they would become easy targets for scam artists.

However, in the US social media companies often argue to be classed a publication for prosecutions in the US. While arguing the opposite in the EU. This is because in the US the constitution guarantees the right to free speech to a much higher degree than in Europe. The 1998 Communication Decency Act in the US said that social media companies are not responsible for the content posted by its users. Liability here lies with the person posting material. (Similar in the UK). But many argue that this should change. In addition to the fact that it’s not always possible to track down the person responsible for the content, this has created a liability vacuum where it may not be possible to hold anyone to account. The anonymity afforded by social media has often led to more extreme abuse.

Car manufacturer vs Tobacco company

There’s increasing evidence of a link between social media and mental health problems. Many suicides and acts of violence have also been directly attributed to content appearing on social media. So how much responsibility should social media companies take for the consequences of its content? Road accidents has become a major cause of injury and death since its invention. But unless it was caused by a fault in the design or manufacturing process, their not responsible or liable. On the other hand, despite there being many causes of cancer, tobacco companies have been held completely responsible for incidents of lung cancer, even for those who’ve never used their product.

A high level of liability here would be very difficult to manage. Consequences of a product in the general population is very difficult to predict. Moderating content against any potential damage in this way could become impossible. Whereas compensation claims in this areas are often cripplingly large for companies concerned.

 

Lessons from history: Exxon Valdez

On the 24th March, 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker out from towards the Long Beach, California with the third mate at the helm. The captain had retired for the night after a drinking session with the crew, following the standard 12-14 hour shift. While entering the Prince William Sounds, Alaska, the third mate made the decision to steer outside the normal shipping lane after hearing reports of small icebergs in the area. Despite not being licenced to navigate outside the normal shipping lane, visibility was low at this time of night, iceberg monitoring equipment had been promised but not yet delivered. Although the RAYCAS radar system was broken (and had been for the last year) but the third mate thought the coastguard monitoring should provide added warnings of dangers (not knowing the coastguard no longer provided this service). At 12.03am the Exxon Valdez struck a reef, puncturing the hull, releasing 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into the environment. What followed became standard knowledge in crisis management on what not to do.

The media coverage, for the first time for such an event, provided back to back coverage of the disaster. Video of the extent of the oil slick, heart-breaking pictures of the suffering wildlife, covered in crude oil and interviews with distraught residents was being broadcast globally. Which was in stark contrast to the silence and apparent indifference from the corporation itself. The few comments made by the company spokesman turned out to be inaccurate. While the Chairman was quoted as saying he had no time for ‘that sort of thing’. After a week of building frustration and outrage with the company the chairman agreed to attend a news conference. During which the majority his comments were immediately disputed by eyewitnesses at the conference. And when asked about the clean-up, he stated that it’s not the job of the chairman to read such reports. The damage to their reputation was so significant that many people believed the name of the company itself was Exxon Valdez.

The clean-up efforts of the disaster itself was also a comedy of errors. Chemical dispersants, designed to break up the spill, was dropped onto the wrong location. While the workers themselves would go on to develop severe health problems over the coming years from the chemicals used. While booms and skimmers were deployed to contain the spill, they proved unsuitable for the task with thick oil and kelp clogging the equipment. The majority of the clean-up operation itself was delayed. Which led to missing the opportunity presented by the good weather, and close to impossible when bad weather set in. High pressure water jets were used to clean the oil from the rock and shoreline. This did prove effective in removing the oil. But unfortunately this also wiped out organisms such as plankton as well, which is the base of the food chain. In fact, areas left untouched (for the purpose of scientific research) recovered quicker. In total as many as 250,000 seabirds were killed in the disaster. Together with 2,800 sea otters, approximately 12 river otters, 300 harbour seals, 247 bald eagles, 22 orcas and an unknown number of salmon and herring.

Consequences for the organisation

In the case of Exxon v. Baker the jury awarded $287 million for actual damage and $5 billion for punitive damages. The amount for punitive damages was reduced to $507.5 million through a succession of appeals over the next 20 years.

A succession of environmental legislation was passed, which included the prohibition of any vessel that has caused an oil spill greater than 1 million gallons from entering Prince William Sounds – the Exxon Valdez. As well as an executive order requiring two tugboats to escort every loaded tanker from Valdez out through Prince William Sound.

Although strangely, the disaster didn’t have a significant effect on actual sales. It seems that a bad reputation for environmental damage wasn’t a significant factor in customers’ decision to purchases.

 

Lessons learnt

A crisis creates an information vacuum. People immediately want to know more about the event. What happened? What risks will it create? Why did it happen? Who was involved? What can be done about it? If the organisation fails to provide answers, others will. And will allow others to define and control the situation.

People don’t just react to the event itself, but to the reasons behind it. If anything, the perceived causes can have more significance than the physical event itself. Because it’s the explanations that defines and characterises the situation, assigns blame and responsibility. And defines the character and motives of the people and companies involved. For example, the same event could be characterised as an accident? Sabotage? Negligence or incompetence? A terrorist attack? Mass murder or an act of potential self-sacrifice, depending on how the story was told.

But most importantly – prepare for disaster. Figure out every potential threat. How likely is it to occur, and what impact could it have? What are the warning signs? Is it preventable and how? Have a simple action plan and a well-trained team in place, and conduct regular exercises. But most importantly, what actions can/should be taken to repair the damage done?

The strange, weird and possibly scary future of marketing technology

Facial recognition technology is something we’d normally associate with security. However, this technology (as well as other similar technologies) are being developed in many different industries for a variety of different purposes and combined in unexpected ways. And surprisingly, is likely to have a major impact in Marketing and PR.

Advertising

We’ve become accustomed to receiving targeted advertising online. But there are now plans for taxis (at least in Japan) to use facial recognition technology for targeted advertising. The plans don’t go as far as identifying the individual person themselves, but the technology could identify demographic characteristics, such as age, gender etc. of the rider. Which would make advertising much more effective. One potential benefit for the customer could be reduced fares, provided customers don’t mind being bombarded with video advertising while traveling. Or alternatively, customers couldsimply ignore the advertising, while still benefiting from the reduced fares.

Online advertising

Eye tracking technology has been in use in many areas ofacademic research for some time. But it could also have applications in marketing. And certainly could have applications in online advertising. One issue with online advertising is that payments are made for advertising regardless of whether the customer even noticed the advert on the screen. The majority of people are now so used to online advertising that it’s simply ignored. However, revenue payments could be determined by eye tracking technology, paying out only if the customer notices the advert. This could also provide valuable feedback on the effectiveness of the advertising and even feed into customer data itself.

Retail

Face recognition technology is also being considered by retailers. The technology could track customers through the store. Including their route through the store, items viewed and items being considered for purchase etc. This data could be used for targeted advertising, discount offers and promotions, in addition to data already collected by their use of store cards. Technology is also becoming increasingly effective in reading facial expressions, as well as body language in general. Coupled with eye tracking, this could provide valuable data not only to produce data for targeted marketing, but can also provide valuable feedback on theeffectiveness of marketing and advertising campaigns as well. This would represent the ‘holy grail’ of marketing data – real time emotional reactions to the products for each specific customer. However, even with the restrictions of privacy laws, bulk anonymised demographic data would also be invaluable to marketing companies.

Issues and crisis management

This technology could also have applications in issues and crisis management. Eye movement coupled with emotional responses to each part of a news stories would provide very specific data as an issue develops or crisis unfolds. Coupled with demographic and psychographic data, these technologies could transform the industry. And consequently lead to more effective responses to important events, increase understanding of a company’s publics and allow more effective preventative measures to be taken. Such data would also have significant impact on marketing strategies, product development and public relations communication generally.The data could even be fed into AI and Machine learning systems, which can pretty much predict our behaviour already.

The Two Faces of Alexa

Ask Alexa

Alexa is the friend who knows everything. Always there for you, ready to help. Always happy and cheerful. But Alexa’s master is Amazon. And her primary function is to produce profit for the company. She’s not really there for your benefit – it’s a marketing tool.
So your friend is also collecting data on you. Spilling all your secrets, desires and fears in order to produce demographic and psychographic profiles for Amazon’s marketing department.
The fact that the command to turn the device on is itself a voice command, shows that it is literally always listening. It may not be collecting and sending back conversations when the device is ‘off’. But tech companies seem to have a habit of saying one thing while doing another. And generally, if something can be done, and is profitable, it tends to happen.

Sales Talk

Sales, is really only about solving problems. And can range from identifying a need and offering a solution. To creating awareness of problems and needs, up to literally creating the problems themselves (body shaming/body image issues is a creation of marketing). So personalised marketing can actually cause personal problems.

Learning Algorithms

The way these marketing algorithms work is quite simply. They collect data on demographics etc. As well as on behaviour. E.g searches, adverts viewed, links, interests etc. Which is then compared to purchasing decisions to find common patterns, in order to work out what adverts will work for each person. These algorithms have become so effective that their discovering patterns and categorising people in ways that even the psychologists don’t understand.


Ted Talk


A real life example was broadcast on Ted.com. Some psychiatrists noticed that a lot of their bipolar treatment programs were failing when at a particular point in treatment, patients were running off to Las Vegas, and gambling away everything they had. This resulted in a downward spiral in their condition.
Eventually it was discovered that, at this particular point in their treatment, they were all being fed adverts for Las Vegas from Facebook.

Evil Overlords?

There wasn’t some sinister intention behind this. Computers don’t have any evil intention, or any motive at all. They just run programs. But because there is no emotion or sense of morality, they’ll do so ruthlessly, without mercy and without compassion. So if their told to maximise profit, that’s exactly what they’ll do – In a manner more ruthless than the coldest businessperson. Also, not a single human being in even aware what decisions are being made.

Nobody’s Immune

We all like to believe that adverts don’t affect us. And most adverts don’t. But we all have our weaknesses and temptations. And most people can point out an advert that did change our mood, point of view or led us into temptation. And everyone has, at some point ended up buying products only after seeing it advertised.

Back to your good friend Alexa

If a clever salesperson happened to overhear a conversation on, for example, the decision to have children (potentially very profitable). H/She could tip the decision in their favour.
Learning algorithms can do the same thing. If, for example, the sticking point is financial worries. The algorithms could, for example, identify other similar couples, with the same issues, what adverts/info they received, then feed the same adverts/info, hopefully for the same results. The scary thing is the system would then learn from results (‘learning algorithms), becoming more as more effective each time. It could, for example, push adverts putting a person in a more adventurous, anxious, chilled out/carefree, nostalgic etc mood that could sway the decision of having children in its favour. As well as the optimum timing (not difficult for the system to work out).
Although, at this point these learning algorithms have evolved to the point where it’s no longer possible to understand how these decisions are being made. They don’t just learn, but learn how to learn as well.

Do we need Sarah Connor?

The fear over the coming world of AI isn’t some apocalyptic nightmare where the robots take over the world. It’s simply that, if we hand decision making over to AI, we may find it difficult to take control back again if we don’t like the results. We could become dependent to the point we can’t live without it. Security systems controlled by AI would be more advanced than we could understand. Policing predictive algorithms (similar to advertising), facial recognition, weaponized AI systems etc could prevent interference in the system (to computers we are part of the system) Computers could simply become too clever for us, and will carry out instructions ruthlessly. We could try to give it some sort of moral instructions. But would probably, again apply it without mercy.

Desperation makes fools of everyone 

There are plenty of techies who understand the Issues involved in AI. The trouble is companies, like social media companies who are in trouble see AI as a magic solution that will sort everything out for them. Zuckerberg et al can be a bit of an idiot at the best of times. But desperation, denial and power can be a dangerous combination. And insists on pushing through with his version of AI despite warnings from other techies. As well as other companies like Amazon.

Is it really worth it?

We’ve become so used to progress that we no longer ask the question – do we actually want this? New technology is invented, it’s marketed and sold with the assumption that new tech will improve our lives. But we’re seeing that this isn’t necessarily true. So is this tech really worth it? Is this tech really worth giving up control over our world and our lives?

Politics in the Fog of Brexit

If you feel confused about Brexit, don’t worry, you’re not alone. At the heart of it, is a deal that’s not a deal. Many have tried to explain what the deal is. But the truth of the matter is, the negotiations were never completed. It’s a patchwork of agreements, partial agreements and guidelines for future negotiations.

What is Brexit?

In 2016, Britain voted to leave the EU. Which was followed by years of negotiations over our future economic/trading/regulatory relationship with the EU. But, like all public votes, the campaigns bore little resemblance to reality. E.g. The health service isn’t going to get £350,000,000 extra funding per week from savings made (no typo). Nor would business turn out to be happy with the arrangement (£900bn in assets has already been moved abroad). And pretty much all economists agree the economy will be weaker outside the EU single market.

So we now have a deal that’s being rejected by both sides. One side is rejecting the deal because it would leave us worse off. While the other side claim that it wouldn’t give us independence anyway.

What’s included in the deal?

  • Britain will remain in the EU single market until Dec 2020. But can be extended while a new trading arrangement is negotiated.
  • Britain will pay any money they’ve previously committed to £39bn. (Named ‘the divorce bill).
  • EU citizens already in the UK will continue to have the right to live and work here.
  • But otherwise free movement of Labour will end.
  • Many EU laws will no longer apply (E.g. employment laws, human rights laws etc).

What’s happening at the moment?

The problem is we’re now running out of time. The process of leaving the EU has already been triggered. So if nothing changes, next month we will no longer be part of the EU. So, because of the panic, the politics between the political parties is also complicated, to say the least. And almost resembles ‘The Game of Thrones’ at times. The stakes are so high, the political parties themselves could fall, if they play the game badly enough. Which complicates the matter even further.

The Border

One of the main sticking points concerns the border around Northern Ireland. If we leave the EU there obviously has to be a customs border somewhere. However, peace agreement (The Good Friday Agreement), that brought an end to the ‘troubles’ between the Republicans and Unionists in Northern Ireland states there cannot have a customs border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. So breaking this agreement could result in a return to violence. This problem does seems unsolvable. A border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland would be unacceptable to the Republicans (as well as causing economic chaos). While a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK (keeping Northern Ireland in the EU) would be unacceptable to the Unionists. As this would, at least partially, split Northern Ireland away from the rest of the UK.

The Backstop

The solution being proposed is called ‘the Northern Ireland backstop’. But would aloe an open border for goods between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. But also provide a customs border for goods travelling through Northern Ireland into the UK from elsewhere. How this would work in practice is anyone’s guess.

But the main concern is whether this backstop creates enough of a border to be seen as splitting the UK in two. If it does, the DUP would reject the deal. This is especially significant, as the government wouldn’t have had a majority to rule without them (the numbers are a little bit different now though).

Another concern is how permanent this ‘backstop is likely to be. The intention is for technology to replace this. But it’s anyone’s guess when this will happen. Over the past month there has been intense negotiations over who has the right to change/remove this backstop and at what point.

What are the options?

Deal

Although Theresa May’s deal has been rejected heavily twice already, there is going to be another vote to accept the deal this week. And it does looks like there is growing support this time. Much of it depends on whether the DUP can be persuaded to back the deal. Because many Conservative MP’s have said they won’t back the deal without the DUP’s support.

No-deal

Although there is very strong opposition to a no-deal Brexit, the MP’s who’d prefer a no-deal are very influential within the Conservative party. Parliament did vote against a no-deal Brexit, but it is still possible to leave without a deal.

Extension

At the moment the date for leaving the EU is set at the end of this month. But Parliament did vote for this date to be changed, to give us more time. However, for this to happen every country in the EU has to agree. This doesn’t look likely to happen unless we either offer something new to the deal or call for another referendum on leaving the EU or a general election.

Second Referendum

Because the original campaign for Brexit was so different to the reality of this deal. Many people are asking for another referendum. There is very strong support for this around the country. However, it would be very difficult for a Conservative government to allow a second referendum without causing permanent damage to their party. The only way this is likely to happen is if a general election is called. And the Labour Party wins.

A General Election

A general election can be called by first calling a ‘vote of no confidence’ in the government. Any party can call for this vote, but to win this vote would need the support of at least some of the Conservative MP’s, as well as the opposition parties. Very unlikely.

Cancel Brexit

The government does have the option of cancelling Brexitaltogether (cancelling Article 50). And can do so without permission from the EU. But this would be very difficult for the Conservatives to sell to their voters. And could cause permanent damage to their party. Although if we don’t really know what we want from this, maybe cancelling Brexit could be the best option.

Immigration and the rising tide of political racism

Is it realistic to think people would leave their homes, friends and family, travel halfway around the world, risk their lives and freedom with people smugglers and pay vast sums of money, in order to claim wealthfare like Universal Credit? This kind of message is constantly being pushed, despite the fact that their are not entitled to access this service.

On the whole there is support for some forms of migration. The majority of people take a balanced view of the benefits and costs of migration. And the dominant view is that migration should be allowed only for those who contribute to society. With a strict but fair border control. There is also an issue with sovereignty. People feel we’re no longer in control of our own borders, with our rights being taken over by the EU.

However, there is a discrepancy between people’s perception of immigration and the actual facts. The issue has been defined in terms dictated by the far right. But what’s frightening is that much of the propaganda is being spread by people running this country or politicians and activists closely associated with them. Racism has become Institutionalised within our political parties. While calls for action been ignored. Islamophobia and anti-semetism has become a particular problem in this country. With the majority of people now holding Islamophobic views.

 

The governments ‘hostile environment’ program is intended to make life difficult for anyone staying here illegally. And involves cutting off vital services such as banking, work, healthcare, renting property etc. As well as well as deportation. But the policy has had a devastating effect on people who have the right to be here as well. Families have been torn apart, made homeless, denied vital services such as healthcare etc. Many British people have been deported. Some to countries they have no contacts, never visited or sometimes not even knowing the language.

The ‘detention centres’ are especially brutal. People are imprisoned without trial and held on an indefinite sentence (only country to do so). This is all happening against a backdrop of increasing racism and bigotry. Whistleblowers are being ignored. While the ‘hostile environment’ program feeds into this.

However, we do seem to be at a turning point. Racist politicians are now being expelled as political parties are owning up to the problem. Action is being taken. Latest surveys shows increasing support for migration. And much of the propaganda is losing its effectiveness. While the anti-racism demo in Cardiff, London and Glasgow this Saturday is likely to produce a record turnout.