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Our Afr*c* P*rn problem gets worse after we try to make it better

UPDATE 9/10/10 1:30 PM: Barbara Streisand and anti-Muslim bigotry (see end of post)

Yes, after that post that admitted our P*rn problem and tried to get out of it, the problem has gotten even worse, like rapidly. The original post Famine Afr*c* stereotype p*rn shows no letup has now climbed from 4th to 3rd most popular post of all time.

Number 1 popular post of all time — African leaders advise Bono on reform of U2 — and Number 2 — Nobody wants your old shoes — still have a large lead, but we are still worried.

I guess we have learned the hard way the #1 rule of the science of Public Relations — don’t do anything to give more legs to a story that you really want to go away (which I am further violating with this very post). I’m not too embarrassed about not understanding PR, since I have never met a single PR person who understood Economics as anything other than the sworn enemy of good PR. (Both sciences DO have in common a spontaneous order in which ACTIONS OFTEN HAVE THE EXACT REVERSE OF THE INTENDED EFFECT.)

Not only that, but most PR people themselves don’t understand the #1 rule of PR. Just think of all the defensive, angry, clueless responses from PR people defending their organizations, which play right into the hands of their critics and INCREASE the negative publicity (Catholic Church abuse scandal, Climategate, etc.)  Actually, Aid Watch has gotten much needed publicity for the cause of Watching Aid from many such clueless organizational PR responses to our own posts.

I guess it’s only poetic justice that we are the victim of my own PR ineptitude about making a bad story disappear.

UPDATE 9/10/10 1:15 PM: Thanks for the great comments, you are making me realize this is deeper than I thought.

Please read the link to the Streisand effect, in which Barbara inadvertently caused more publicity about herself in an attempt to stop publicity.

The analogy to the B*rn*ng the K*r*n story is very apt. All those critics and public officials who understandably piled on that nut in Florida with 50 followers gave him exactly what he wanted — lots of publicity for the cause of H*t*ng M*sl*ms. Newspaper stories pointed out today that nobody had ever heard of him and his stupid and hateful ideas until the critics started piling up. So the effect of lots of criticism  is to cause exactly what the critics were trying to prevent — a major backlash among Muslims worldwide as they hear about this one obscure idiot.

Two reactions: (1) what a great example of the law of unintended consequences! (2) what a moral and pragmatic dilemma! do you denounce a bigot if your denunciation is going to increase the effect of his bigotry?

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  1. MattW wrote:

    You’re pretty awesome, Professor Easterly. The infamous post, the unintended consequences, and how you seem to take it all in good humor.

    Did you ever think you’d be disguising key words on your blog so that they don’t get picked up by the sensors?

    Posted September 10, 2010 at 1:50 am | Permalink
  2. jmdesp wrote:

    You know I think the main thing that I find annoying with that post is that you don’t even deliver the real thing, actual African charity porn. So let’s correct that, here’s the things :

    I also recommend some of the comments, this one from bunka jinrui gakusha meaning cultural anthropologist, also the one by “jake”, and finally the one of “Mud Man” who’s looking for help in order to sue the producer of this thing.

    Posted September 10, 2010 at 4:42 am | Permalink
  3. jv wrote:

    The most prominent example of breaking the PR #1 rule is the “burn the C*r*n” scandal. Thanks to D. Petr**us and the media.

    Posted September 10, 2010 at 10:15 am | Permalink
  4. James wrote:

    This is similar to the “Streisand effect”

    Posted September 10, 2010 at 11:39 am | Permalink
  5. robert wrote:

    Your Bono post is very Onion-esque

    Posted September 10, 2010 at 11:57 am | Permalink
  6. ewaffle wrote:

    Continuing to write posts about the number of pR*n consumers finding your site is a good idea.

    The more you post about it the more they will stay away.

    What could go wrong?

    Posted September 10, 2010 at 2:20 pm | Permalink
  7. south wrote:

    PR people always make a couple of basic mistakes:
    (1) they think everyone is hanging on their every word and awaiting their next statement or clarification, when actually most of the public has never heard of them;
    (2) like governments, being SEEN to do something to solve a problem more important than seeming not to do anything, even when taking no action would be more productive.

    Posted September 11, 2010 at 9:34 pm | Permalink
  8. Curious wrote:

    This is too funny! I hope it will also perhaps make you a little more sympathetic when aid things go out of control for us inept aid workers….


    Posted September 13, 2010 at 9:36 am | Permalink
  9. Diane Bennett wrote:

    Are you talking about Public Relations or the Media? I believe it is the mainstream media that have paid excessive attention to both the Islamic Cultural Center near the Trade Center site and the Florida pastor, quoting every politician they can find that is willing to take a position. PR professionals represent individuals and organizations but it is the media that consume their hype and spread the information as if it were news. If the media were a little more thoughtful, we’d all be consuming a more balanced news diet.

    @ South While PR aims to influence the media, I disagree that they tend to assume we are hanging on their every word. Actually, most PR people I’ve worked with assume no one is listening and they work pretty hard to get anyone to listen. I agree it is sometimes obnoxious, as I currently receive the PR soliciting Prof. Easterly’s attention for nearly every charitable act in the US…

    Posted September 13, 2010 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

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    The Aid Watch blog is a project of New York University's Development Research Institute (DRI). This blog is principally written by William Easterly, author of "The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics" and "The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good," and Professor of Economics at NYU. It is co-written by Laura Freschi and by occasional guest bloggers. Our work is based on the idea that more aid will reach the poor the more people are watching aid.

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