Can truth survive in a freelance economy?
According to the experts, 43% of us will be freelancers by 2020.
In an age where ‘likes’ are more desirable than facts that’s deeply troubling.
Freelancers don’t have the job security enjoyed by their permanent friends. If a client says jump, we don’t just ask how high, we produce a PowerPoint of possible trajectories.
For that very reason I’ve been asked to work on projects my permanent friends don’t want to do. Projects like tobacco, defense and a few others I won’t bore you with.
Well, maybe I will.
How about phones covered in real jewels but no touch screen that start at three grand a pop? Or a health-initiative advising women to go to the gym, providing they go with a male relative? Or a handbook on ‘The Big Society’ in which 100% of the advocates were men?
I can sometimes hear the late comic Bills Hicks screaming inside my head, ‘By the way, if anyone here is in advertising or marketing, kill yourself…rid the world of your evil fucking machinations.’
And yes, he was a little harsh, but I can’t help feeling he had a point.
Now that forums exist where writers bid for jobs for as little at seven dollars an hour (I kid you not), what’s to stop them from doing the jobs more privileged freelancers pass on, especially in the realm of social media?
There are over 2.07 billion monthly active Facebook users.
On average, the Like and Share Buttons are viewed across almost 10 million websites daily.
As for Twitter, there are 330 million active users, 46 million of which follow the real Donald Trump; a man not exactly famed for his hold on the truth; yet he regularly gets north of 70 thousand likes per tweet every day.
Everyone is either chasing a big blue thumb or a little red heart.
Thankfully adverts have to abide by a code represented by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
The ASA’s Press Officer, Matt Wilson, says, “The majority of advertisers buy-into our regulatory system, not least because bad ads are likely to alienate consumers and promote mistrust which is fundamentally bad for business.”
But he also admits, “For the first time in 2014 there were more internet ads complained about than TV. We’re not deluged with complaints about this but it is an area where consumers are increasingly challenging the authenticity of influencer messages and demanding transparency.”
Hoorah for the great British Public.
However the thing about social media is that it’s basically ads dressed up not to look like ads.
I’ve written for a beauty company promoting depilatory cream, pretending to be a housewife on an online forum. Look closely and it’s clear it’s the company talking – albeit in a rather chummy tone – but few people look closely.
I’ve also sat in on a meeting about how to start a charitable movement on Facebook. A member of staff was about to create it on Facebook under their own name - posing as an ordinary member of the public. People would have no idea there was a team of marketeers behind it.
Imagine if their motives weren’t so noble. Facebook itself admits it has over 270 million fake and duplicate profiles.
How can we tell what’s real and what’s not?
From a cursory glace on LinkedIn it seems that well over half the copywriter jobs advertised are in social media, paid to create content on sites like Facebook and Instagram.
Can the ASA track and safeguard everything they do?
The National Union of Journalists is well aware of the problem when it comes to the news.
Freelance Journalist, Matt Salusbury claims, ‘Not a day has passed without a major headline appearing along the lines of "Economy doing better than ever post-Brexit", followed by "We're screwed, we told you so!" schadenfreudig Brexit catastrophe predictions.'
He asks ‘What happens to the ethics of journalism in such an atmosphere?’
But I don’t see that sense of urgency in marketing. OK, ethics isn’t exactly our stock in trade. We create beautiful lies: This cream will hold back the years. This aftershave will make you irresistible to women. This bank cares.
But there has to be an element of truth in what we do.
If the bank says it cares it needs to offer something by way of proof: shorter queues, a better rate of interest, at the very least a comfy chair and a coffee machine.
Also people know when they were looking at an advert and take it with a pinch of salt.
That's not true of social media simply because no one’s sure who is saying what.
Is it a twelve-year-old girl or a political group? Housewife or corporation? Real or fake?
And when freelance content writers write it - 43% of whom could be competing for their next pay cheque - who's to say we won’t all end up with a giant blue thumb up our arse?
But perhaps I’m too cynical.
The upside of social media is that people eventually spot when someone's telling porky pies.
Unless of course they offer them something they really, really want, like £350m a week to the NHS. Or a promise to turn back the clock to more halcyon days.
Sometimes the lies are so big, so audacious, people line up behind them hoping to defy reality. And we all find ourselves reading them in not more than 140 characters from a nasty little orange man.
As Hicks once said, “Beliefs are neat. Cherish them, but don’t share them like they’re the truth.”