Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Don't help your official agency and Ministerial photos become parody memes through poor selection and timing

A challenge today for politicians and public servants is how easy it is for a photo or frame from a video to be reused out-of-context to parody, well, literally anything.

We've seen the increasing use of 'photoshopped' images on social media to support all kinds of political and social positions, ranging from the clever and amusing to the downright disturbing.

Two of the most notable examples - which have become memes in their own right - include the 'floating Chinese officials' from 2011, the result of the accidental upload of a poorly photoshopped image of three council officials (below).

The image appeared to show the officials (including the County mayor and vice-mayor) floating above the road and was immediately parodied by internet users, who placed the officials in a range of amusing and inappropriate locations, such as below.

The second example of a government photo-turned-meme was the phone call from David Cameron to President Obama in March this year, where the UK Prime Minister tweeted a serious photo of him listening to a landline phone, claiming he was on the phone to President Obama of the USA to discuss the Ukrainian situation (below).

This was parodied by a range of people, who started by posting tweets of them speaking on the phone, and then on a variety of other items. It even attracted celebrity attention from people like Sir Patrick Stewart (as below), and in the end David Cameron played along and tweeted a photo of him meeting an ex-US President in person.

This second 'on the phone' meme was replicated a month after the Cameron call in Australia when the Prime Minister tweeted a serious photo of himself on the phone addressing the MH17 crisis. This was predictably mocked by many people online in the same vein.

Now while it isn't possible to prevent the 'photoshopping' of images and their reuse in parody form, it is possible for agencies and politicians to consider what images they wish to 'put out there' to reduce the prospect of having their message overshadowed by a clever, funny or touching parody.

This means avoiding deliberately publishing images which are obvious fodder for parody - anything related to being 'on the phone', 'inspecting developments' or easily misinterpreted facial expressions.

It is also important to avoid 'follow the leader' shots - where an Australian official is photographed in a similar pose, or doing a similar thing, to an overseas official who was recently parodied for the same pose (such as the Cameron - Abbott situation).

I saw one of these images yesterday from an Australian politician and decided to see how easy it would be to modify it for use in parody.

Using my trusty copy of Seashore - a free graphics editing tool with many of the same features of Photoshop, I was able to cut out the relevant parts of the original image within about 15 minutes.

It then took a simple Google image search to locate some freely available images and a matter of second to import and place the politicians within the scenes.

Below I've included a copy of the original image (in its original tweet), as well as several of the 'photoshopped' parody images.

Consider this what is possible by a relatively inexperienced user of a free graphic design program in under an hour - then consider what someone with more experience and more intent could do with images that make parody easy.

The original Tweet (with a 'watching infrastructure' image - a type very likely to be parodied):

My (very quickly) 'photoshopped' images - starting with my favourite:

Now think about how you want your Minister and staff portrayed, and how you can minimise the likelihood of your official images being reused for parody purposes.

While you can't prevent this from happening, prudent image selection and advice can, at least, minimise the potential and help you retain control of your message.

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