Facebook, GDPR, brand safety – suddenly it’s 2018 all over again

Happy New Year 2018

For understandable reasons, the last four, regular monthly episodes of the Small Data Forum podcast have been focused – almost to the point of obsession – on coronavirus. From the uncertain first fumblings of life under lockdown, through escalating mortality and morbidity, and on to a fundamental lack of trust in the competence of blustering, blond, male, right-wing leaders … the last four episodes have had it all.

Some have said that this podcast was made for events like the pandemic, scrutinising as we do the uses and abuses of data big and small in politics, business, and public life. There’s been plenty of that about of late.

So, with lockdown restrictions being lifted all around the world – and Government advice completely ignored on the beaches of Bournemouth in the mini-U.K. heatwave last week, leading Dorset police to declare the overcrowding “a major incident” – our focus in this episode was much more catholic.

Indeed, with Facebook, GDPR, and brand safety the dominant topics, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d fallen through a wormhole in the space-time continuum and teleported back to 2018.

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When Henry VIII met Dr Strangelove

Henry VIII Strangelove

If historical analogies provide the measure of a man, then Downing Street henchman-in-chief, lead iconoclast and perpetual ideas recyclist “Classic Dom” Cummings is doing a spectacularly good job.

He has been likened to everyone in the “Who’s Who?” of strategy, warfare and statesmanship, from Sun Tzu, to “a cross between Macchiavelli and Rasputin”, alternatively “an amalgam of Thucydides and Stephen Hawking”, or “an unnerving cross between Robespierre and Dr Strangelove”, or in fact Thomas Cromwell to his boss’s Henry VIII.

As for Prime Minister Johnson, a recent Unherd profile depicts him as Janus, the god of time, transitions, beginnings and endings.

Our classicist-in-residence, Sam, will have particularly enjoyed the perspective of how young Boris got framed and primed in the “rhetorical world view”, laying the foundations of the fine specimen that all media social and traditional relay continuously: “He assumes a natural agility in changing orientations. He hits the street already street-wise. From birth, almost, he has dwelt not in a single value structure but in several. He is thus committed to no single construction of the world; much rather, to prevailing in the game at hand.”

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More C-3PO and BB-8 than GDPR and CCPA, and definitely NSFW

Above: Prime Minister Johnson drives a Brexit-supporting JCB digger through a Pink Floyd-like wall with the scoop  emblazoned with Cummings favourite earworm.

“It’s Christ-maaaaaaaaas!”

With the stretched vocal chords of Slade’s Noddy Holder ringing in our ears, the three not-so-wise men at the helm of the Small Data Forum gathered for our post-GE2019, Christmas special, end-of-year, end-of-decade podcast.

And as usual for our Christmas specials, Neville, Thomas, and Sam made sure we’d tucked into some of the festive spirit before we started recording episode 31. Our tolerably noisy base was the members’ bar of the Picture House Cinema in Piccadilly Circus in Soho’s fashionable London.

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Of Giants and Donkeys

According to the Sunday Times, the pending General Election will be “the battle of the Svengalis” (paywall) – between Dominic Cummings and Seamus Milne.

Unsurprisingly, Brexit limbo and #GE2019 was THE theme for the SmallDataForum as we recorded episode 30 on All Hallows Day 2019, otherwise known as #NoBrexitDay.

And since the PM whisperer has so much more of a public profile than his equivalent for the leader of Her Majesty’s opposition, it was Dominic “Machiavelli” Cummings, rather than the invisible man (paywall) behind Jeremy Corbyn, who enjoyed our full attention. Or at least mine.

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Back to the Future

When Rome teetered on the brink of democratic collapse in the first century BCE, as it prepared – unknowingly – to move from a form of notional democracy to imperial rule, three men came together to save the ever-expanding city state and advance their political careers.

Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus – the swashbuckler, the strategist, and the finance guy – effectively took power under emergency measures. Known collectively as the First Triumvirate, they made mistakes along the way, and were all – eventually – stabbed in either the front or the back.

And as we live today in extraordinary, turbulent times, I’m certain that the classicists’ classicist Mary Beard will be along with a BBC series to draw parallels soon.

There are two troubles with classical references and analogies, from both history and mythology.

The first is that two societies, 2,000 years apart, separated by the Dark Ages, Medieval Times, the Renaissance, and the four revolutions – from agricultural to industrial, technological to digital – are just quite literally incomparable.

The second is down to the current – at time of writing – incumbent of Number 10 Downing Street. Prime Minister Cummings – sorry Johnson – has a long track record of using classical allusions to spice up but ultimately bamboozle his public with his application of erudition. Most recently, he compared himself to Prometheus, the demi-god who stole fire from the gods and gave it to man, but was punished for eternity by being lashed to a rock and having his liver pecked out by vultures.

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