International Communication

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Saturday, December 10, 2011

"If you see Muslims, say something."

The readings for this week talked about "social marketing," the concept of using the techniques of  commercial marketers to promote "pro-social" behavior.  No matter where we come from or what culture we belong to, there are probably a few things that all Americans agree are vaguely pro-social: driving responsibly, not littering, eating a healthy diet.  While most of us are likely to fall into these behaviors at least once in a while, there seems to be a general consensus that these are good things to work on.

The problem comes when we fail to look at the subtle agendas being promoted by the social marketers.  A recent example that stands out is the "If you see something-say something" campaign.

We've all heard this phrase or seen it in advertisements.  It's a trademarked phrase thought up by the Department of Homeland Security.  Just a friendly reminder to spy on your neighbors.  What could be more "pro-social" than fighting terrorism?

I'm surprised that more people aren't concerned about this campaign.  It's a brilliant strategy.  The government would catch a lot of flack if it said "If you see Muslims, say something."  As a string of recent articles have shown, this is the kind of language they reserve for their internal FBI training manuals (   It's what they want the public to think, but saying it is just so tacky. 

They have a much vaguer social hygiene message for public consumption.  The "something" that you see is left up to the viewer's discretion.  In the case of one guy I know, who is Indian and darker-skinned, someone reported him for timing the amount of time between each subway car.  Apparently this was all that it took to get him questioned by the police on his way to work.  But it's better to err on the side of caution and assume that everyone is a terrorist.  At least that's the message we're getting.  

As the recent shootings in Norway showed, there is simply no way for the public to gauge when these sorts of things might happen.  A blond-haired, blue-eyed police officer-the type most people would rush to and report a certain "something"-could turn out to be the real criminal we should be worried about.  This social marketing campaign should be called out for what it is. Rather than make us safer, it's there to give us a creeping sense of paranoia, until the only ones we feel we can trust are the friendly faces smiling at us from the other end of the surveillance camera.

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