BBG Watch Commentary
New media innovators at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) built their “Weapons of Mouse Destruction” as “the largest participatory art project against government Internet censorship that has ever been launched.” But the mousetrap that was supposed to drive fear into the hearts of Iranian ayatollahs turned out to be an expensive fiasco — with hardly any viewer-provided art photos, hardly any comments, hardly any web traffic, and hardly any attention from anyone.
The only people that should pay attention are American taxpayers. They should not be mislead by the claim that while the Broadcasting Board of Governors and the Voice of America (VOA) strongly support the struggle against government Internet censorship, WMD is a grassroots project spearheaded by the creators of Parazit, the popular VOA television satire program to Iran. The producers of Parazit may have conceived the idea, but it was almost certainly executed by BBG-hired consultants and paid for with taxpayers’ money.
It is money that has been wasted. It could have been used to support radio and television programs and Internet news content to countries lacking media freedom like China, Tibet, Russia, and Iran. Instead it went to BBG consultants and private contractors with nothing much to show for it except for a few dozen similarly-looking images that don’t leave any distict impression because they are all more or less the same.
The Weapons of Mouse Destruction site shows a scroll gallery of user-contributed photos that may appear large at a first glance until a closer look reveals that the same a few dozens of images are being shown over and over again. The iPhone application features only 27 photos. Its Facebook page has only 777 “Likes”. Mikey Mouse has 4.4 million Facebook fans. Free Pussy Riot Now! (Putin, fear no art.) Community on Facebook has 11,746 “Likes” and 6,252 people talking about it. It joined Facebook only in March. People post on it every hour.
The most recent post by others on the Weapons of Mouse Destruction Facebook Page is from April 1, appropriately April Fools Day. No one has contributed anything since then. It’s now the beginning of August. Could it be perhaps described as a Mickey Mouse project?
To see any posts on the Facebook page, one must go back to March. There were some on March 9, apparently from consultants employed by the BBG, but the best and the funniest one, in out opinion, was from Niloo Soleimani on March 10:
“Sorry I’m a little slow. Why ‘Mouse’ destruction. I don’t get it. Mouse are people too. I’m for NO Destruction at all”
Right on Niloo. Did anyone at the BBG thought about Mickey Mouse or how juvenile and amateur this whole idea is? Niloo is no fan of the ayatollahs. Her Facebook banner says: “Unveil women’s right to unveil.” She knows how to use satire and sarcasm to promote ideas — something that cannot be said of the BBG new media innovation team. Subtle satire is lost on them. We all know that Iran has WMDs and the Koran does not say nice things about rodents. So what? That’s not how successful causes are launched on the Internet.
In July, only 17 peopled “Liked” the BBG project and only 56 people “Talked ” about it on Facebook — a drop from 35 and 74 in June, respectively.
The iPhone WMD application, which no doubt cost a lot of money to produce knowing how BBG consultants operate, has barely three reviews. One reviewer aptly observed:
this is just everyone doing the same pose. i don’t know how that’s helping
It appears that the project has been effectively abandoned by the new media innovation experts who made promises, spent taxpayers’ funds and collected their large paychecks. That’s how things work these days at the Broadcasting Board of Governors.
Meanwhile, the Iranian ayatollah mouse has roared as it laughed at the BBG’s Weapons of Mouse Destruction Mousetrap. The Iranian censors could not have been impressed by the claims from the BBG innovation team, and rightly so.
For the record, we will list here the goals of the BBG experts for the project:
“Weapons of Mouse Destruction is the largest global art project against Internet censorship that has ever been launched. Our mission is simple: use art as a medium to promote advocacy and awareness about government Internet censorship – a growing epidemic impacting the lives of millions of people worldwide.
We enlist the participation of every day people from around the world to use their picture as a symbol of solidarity and make a bold statement against Internet censorship. With the help of the international community, we have the power to transform an art project into a global movement that will impact the lives of millions of people. Join us and become a Weapon of Mouse Destruction against censorship.”
The whole thing could be laughable if core BBG broadcasting services were not being eliminated and journalists specializing in human rights reporting were not being fired to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to consultants who make exaggerated claims and help to execute these meaningless and ineffective projects. In the last two years, Broadcasting Board of Governors executives proposed to end Voice of America broadcasts to China, Tibet, and other nations without free media. They also wanted to fire hundreds of experienced journalists. Fortunately, some of their plans were blocked by the U.S. Congress.
The BBG can compete and fight censorship with serious journalism and broadcasting. It can also compete with television satire programs like Parazit. But contrary to claims from the BBG innovation experts, it can’t compete against millions of websites, Facebook pages and far better designed and better executed Internet projects, because these experts lack a broader vision even if they are given millions of dollars by the BBG to waste.
Frankly, such projects are best done by individuals and entities not connected with the U.S. government. The Voice of America can then report on such initiatives.
The core function of U.S. international broadcasting, where the BBG can make a difference, are radio and television news. New media platforms can, of course, be used to deliver news and information and to supplement the core activity. But what the BBG is doing is to destroy its competitive advantage so it can hire more private contractors and consultants. Some of them have annual task orders funded at over $400,000. They also travel at government expense to Barcelona, London, Prague, and other such locations.
We would like to know how long will they be allowed to sell their unworkable mousetraps to BBG executives and Board members while people in Iran, China, Tibet and Russia are waiting for real news?