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Make It Count: immoral mobile texting [The Fiji Times, 16 Dec 2008]

22/03/2012

  It was a very popular TV talent quest, with a catchy name.  “MIC. Make it count”.

Except that we never asked ourselves, until too late:  counting what?

A fascinating array of performers sang their hearts out every week.  Three interestingly different judges made their informed, kind or acidic comments. The public “voted” for their favourite singers through mobile texting.   And each week, the one with the least number of votes got eliminated.

Seems fair and democratic, doesn’t it?    Except that it was grossly unfair.

And very rightly, many discerning members of the public felt aggrieved when deserving musical talents were “voted off” the show.

Of course, the young lady who made it to the final did have musical talent.

But the “texting method of voting” used by the MIC show was a farce, which the public should never have accepted.

We could perhaps laugh it off if this was the only mobile texting misdemeanor. But there are many others.

There “texting promotions” are simply lotteries.  And they should be banned from targeting our children.

Of course the mobile phone revolution has brought enormous benefits.  But there is a whole range of  negative social impacts as well.

Our apathetic public needs to demand that the mobile companies follow proper codes of conduct set by the authorities (which?).

MIC  voting?

  Today’s Interim Government is jumping up and down about electoral reform and the need to have “one person one vote” for a fair democracy.

But what about the “voting procedure” used by VodaphoneFijiand Fiji TV, for the MIC show?

Each singer received a vote if someone texted in a message supporting that singer.  Each message counted as one vote.  There was no restriction on how many messages were sent in by any person.

Only those with mobile phones could vote, hence a whole heap of poor people could not vote at all.   Imagine elections for our parliament restricted to only those with mobile phones?

The cost of the message was 99 cents, or 400% more than the cost of the normal text message. Hence super profits was an important objective.

And rich people could text in hundreds of messages from just one phone, which they did.

And that was exactly what the MIC organisers wanted.

So those who could, and were willing to spend money through the mobile phone text messaging, decided who was eliminated and who went on in the MIC show.

Inevitably, a few great performers got eliminated.  Not enough money behind them. Musical talent or performance did not have the final say on who was eliminated.

How disgraceful of VodaphoneFiji.  How disgraceful of Fiji TV.

If they had wanted a fairer voting system using mobiles, it would have been quite easy to restrict each mobile phone to only one text message, costing 20 cents, giving  “one person one vote”, the current catch-phrase.  Instead of “you got the money, you got the votes”.

The texting mania

  Over this last year, as Vodaphone prepared for the competition by Digicel, we have seen dozens of texting promotions targeting the public, through TV and radio stations.

Vodaphone itself has forced these texting gambling on consumers who never asked for them.

Text in as many messages you want, at 99 cents a message.  Be in the draw for a car, a mobile phone, a holiday here and there, a television set, etc etc etc.

All thinly disguised gambling games.  The profits are shared between the mobile company and the competition organiser.

For the partners, the profits are clearly important.  Look at the ever increasing number of companies running these texting competition.

VodaphoneFijiprobably does not make much money from these texting competitions.

But they know very well their long-term benefits of hooking into the maximum number of customers, who would then be denied to their competitor.

The reality is that thousands of people have bought mobile phones just to get into these competitions, hooking them into gambling.

What could be so simple and so painless? No forms to fill, just click away with your fingers; and you are in for the draw.  You don’t even have to hand over any cash.

But of course, for most mobile users, the cash has already been handed over when the recharge card was bought.

And disturbingly often, the cash is taken from children.

Targeting children

  The immorality of these texting competitions may be seen in the effects on children.

All over the country, concerned loving parents, regardless of their economic status, have bought mobile phones for their children. So that any time, they can check on their children, and the children can call the parents.  All very understandable.

Except that Vodaphone has spared no effort in hooking children into the mobile phone gambling.

How often have we seen on programmes such as IQ Active or a whole range of  television and radio programmes made for children, asking so-called “quiz” questions, in return for school kits or lap-tops?

“Who wasFiji’s first Prime Minister?”  or “Who is our famous Sevens star?”  or equally banal questions to which everyone knows the answers.

These quiz competitions are never intended to test children’s IQs.  They are designed to get as many children to text in as possible, to generate maximum revenues for the competition organisers, and for VodaphoneFiji, and to hook our children into the use of mobiles.

Other negative impacts

  As a society, we are not thinking about the negative social effects that mobiles are having on us.

How often are poor parents struggling to give their children pocket money which is really spent on recharge cards?

How often do poor families divert their grocery money to cater to their addiction to the mobile phone mania?

How much do families spend on mobiles now compared to what they spend on books for their children?

We don’t think about how poor children feel at school when rich children splurge on their mobile phones.

And while we would not turn away if someone tries to speak to us, we don’t think twice about doing that through the mobile phone when we see who is calling us. Who cares about mobile phone etiquette?

Code of conduct for mobile companies

  Of course, the mobile companies are donating large sums of money for charity, for sporting groups and for all kinds of “good deeds”.  Once Vodaphone even sponsored a group of senile (sorry, senior) golfers to an Australian Seniors Golf Tournament.

Cynics may say that the financial charity is easy because of the massive monopoly profits they have been making for a decade and they may see it simply driven by the need to deny Digicel a share of the local market.

Nevertheless, VodaphoneFiji  has donated far more than most otherFijicompanies, some of which have operated very profitably inFijifor decades, if not a century.

But surely, Vodaphone and Digicel could follow a socially acceptable code of conduct and still thrive.

The Consumer Council of Fiji, Commerce Commission and government need to consider a code of conduct which both the mobile companies must be required to follow:

(a)      Mobile phone voting restrict one vote per phone.

(b)     Mobile companies design a mechanism that allows parents to stop their children’s phones from accessing texting/gambling competitions (eg special numbers for children’s phones).

(c)      Texting competitions be banned, or charged prohibitive gambling taxes.

(d)     Mobile companies stop sending unsolicited messages to users.

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