Mathias Antonsson

Random subjective observations of what's on my mind


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Uncomfortably Numb

I’ve been asked about my views on the gun control and Disney debates. I think this Mark Twain quote sums it up pretty well:

“Don’t argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”

That’s my way of saying I have better things to do than spend time on what should be non-issues. The gun control debate in the US is about as sane and fact based as the health care debate. Both plagued by strong lobby influences for a status quo. In regards to the Disney debate I simply cannot comprehend, with everything else going on in the world, how anyone can find time to commit to such nonsense. Let alone be upset about it.


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Settle For Nothing

Banks have clearly gone from ”too big to fail” to ”too big to jail”. HSBC was complicit in laundering money for drug cartels and for harboring terrorist money transfers, but didn’t get indicted. These BBC, Al Jazeera and The Economist pieces will give you some context if you’re unfamiliar with the topic. I often speak about incentives, and the incentives for banks couldn’t be clearer; screw up the world economy with schemes and outright fraud, no worries, you won’t go to jail and the taxpayer will bail you out. In fact support drug cartels and terrorists and you’ll be fined, but walk. Even walk with partial bonus payouts. What?

Well, there is another example, namely Iceland. They argued that the banks are private companies and as such the taxpayers are not liable for their mistakes and held their banks accountable for their extravagancies, letting them go BANKrupt (yes, pun intended).  What happened? Iceland recovered fast, other sectors spurred by the human capital and competence previously locked up in their banks. Proof of concept for the argument that the banking sector produces very little actual output compared to other sectors. Well, something more happened too, the UK declared them a terrorist state. Iceland a terrorist state, laughable! Hopefully the worst misuse of the vague terrorism definitions and laws that will ever be committed. Read their President’s excellent views on the topic here.

This impunity development is so obviously horrific I won’t even bother going into details as you simply don’t need details to understand why it’s awful in its entirety. Therefore I will leave you with a link to a brilliant and short video on the HSBC verdict and instead focus on an interesting development in Kenya.

Kenya and other African countries are not seldom ahead of the rigid Western countries when it comes to new innovative ideas. One of the best examples is M-Pesa. A mobile phone based money transfer system that is a branchless banking service. You simply open your account and load money into it and transfer to other people’s phones. Perhaps this superstar ICT product, which is so simple it is SMS based, will be the solution to the impunity currently enjoyed by the banking system.

This brilliant Kenyan idea could be to the banking system what file sharing was to the movie and music industry. However if you think the movie and music industry lobby was bad, resulting in laws that turned almost entire populations into criminals, then what do you think the banking lobby will do seeing as they already can get away with laundering money for drug cartels, supporting terrorism and getting the whole country of Iceland labeled as a terrorist state? Then again, if the Mayans were right, it’ll be sorted on Friday.


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Mouthful of Love

Leaving a meeting yesterday I got into a conversation with a security guard. Or rather he got me into it as he walked up asking me:

–          Are you French?
–          No, erhm, why?
–          Are you married?
–          What? Well, no.
–          You should marry a nice Kenyan girl. She will love your money.
–          OK, well, call me crazy but I want my future wife to love me for whom I am.
–          Why? You will have a great family and she can take care of everything for you.
–          Not really what I am looking for…
–          You’re crazy! It would be so easy for you, all you would have to do is pay for it.

At this point I assumed he was going to “recommend“ someone, but instead he went into a five minute monologue about his life up until now. Unexpected on so many levels.

I mentioned this conversation to a Kenyan friend and his response was also unexpected.

–          Forget the Kenyan or African women, they will suck you dry.
–          Hmm…
–          Then, once you’re dry, she will leave you for someone else.
–          That’s a bit harsh isn’t it?
–          No. Find a mzungu (Swahili word for white person).
–          Yeah…?
–          Yes. Sucked dry!

And so goes another day…

UPDATE:

I’ve been informed this text is racially insensitive, and yes it is. I wrote this post for that very reason, to highlight the existing discourse. In fact I’ve been told similar things several times before. I thought it implicit by the way I presented the text, but let me clarify to make things absolutely clear; the views expressed above are NOT mine, nor are they shared by me.


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A Twisted State

Hand on heart, when was the last time you screwed up at work? How bad was it? Did it make the newspapers? That’s the reality quite a few people I know operate in. Here’s an example from a few days ago:

UN 1-state

A typo. Sometimes that’s enough to make CNN and Al Jazeera. Look up the definition of “an honest mistake” in the dictionary and this photo could be next to it. The keen of you will have noticed that it’s the @UN account. The very same Twitter account me and my then boss started in 2009 (novelty fact: then called @UNIC). I truly feel for my successor who had this misfortune, as I know better than most how difficult the job is and how meticulous one has to be.

Back when I used to manage it we didn’t have a team, and since news doesn’t take the weekend off it was rather stressful at times. I remember many mornings, especially on Saturdays or Sundays, going through the news from home and reading one tweet 20-30 times before posting it just to make sure it was correct. The Gaza flotilla story in 2010 is a terrific example of how difficult it could be. Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, had released a press statement with the headline:

“UN human rights chief condemns violent interception of Gaza aid flotilla”

It’s unusually outspoken to be the UN, condemnations aren’t common. Since this was before my morning coffee I must have gone over the tweet and our guidelines in my head at least 50 times before I posted. All of this under time pressure to make sure we carried the story. The combination of a UN official for once actually expressing a point of view and the fact that we posted it early on meant it went banana bonkers. Viral doesn’t begin to cover it. I think we got over 10,000 new followers that day, and this was at a time when we perhaps only had a 100,000 or so followers. It turned out to be a catalyst for the account. After that single tweet we would gain around 5,000-10,000 new followers per week no matter what stories we reported on. It was the catapult to our mature account that live coverage of events was to it in its wee beginnings.

Social Media is an unforgiving business. Can you imagine making a mistake and then instantly showcasing it to over a million people? Yet, you have to be creative and push the envelope to attract attention and spread your word. It is therefore exceptionally important that the business environment you are in is aware of the fact that mistakes will happen. And that it is forgiving when it inevitably does. Operating under the assumption that the guillotine is behind every typo is a sure way to stifle any creativeness and innovative spirit. This is universal no matter what business you are in. But with Social Media I would argue that being conservative is to the detriment of the business as the account in all likelihood will be counterproductively boring. Bad to good accounts do information, great accounts do infotainment. It carries that twist that makes you want to know more.

I’m sure my successor will emerge stronger from this. She will go over the routine, surely add some new cool tools to her bag of tricks and come back with ignited passion. She can always find solace in that she’s not alone. UN Radio knows how to deliver that aforementioned twist with the best of them:

UN Radio Tweet

Twisted twist