A Twitter storm is no reason to banish Fatima

by Matthew Eason

Most people who read the news or have a reasonable online presence will know about the fuss over a government-branded ad campaign with the slogan “Fatima’s next job could be in cyber. (she just doesn’t know it yet) imposed over the picture of a ballerina. This ad has proved sufficiently problematic – otherwise known as provoking a social media “outcry” – for the Government, specifically Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, to intervene, pull the ad and disavow responsibility for sanctioning it.

So where did CyberFirst, a programme led by the National Cyber Security Centre to encourage young people to get into tech, go wrong with the ad?

Firstly, many of those who have expressed their outrage at the ad have claimed that it shows a clear and distinct lack of government support or appreciation for the arts in general – that cyber is a far more worthwhile and valuable industry. In my view, this is simply a bizarre position to take – the ad makes no judgement or assessment on the value of the two areas. Moreover, even with the best will in the world, a ballerina cannot stay in the industry forever and will likely decide to take on a new career path rather than simply retire. Generally speaking, those who change career path will not often have a definitive plan and it would be highly plausible that “Fatima” would not yet have chosen her future industry.

Perhaps you might be one of those who claim that the advertisement is a symptom of a government that is willing to let the arts die, that they have no interest in supporting the arts in normal circumstances, let alone through this difficult time. Clearly, this is untrue. I would not call over £1.5bn an insubstantial level of support – on top of all the ongoing Covid support measures that businesses can take advantage of.

Another reason that this criticism is blatantly mistaken is the hyper focus on this one specific ad. It was part of a larger campaign that highlighted several industries and roles – showing no preference or requirements – to demonstrate that a route into cyber is possible for everyone. It made no claims about cyber being better or more desirable, nor did it specifically target the arts industry, but rather serves as a reminder and statement of intent to get more people to consider working in the cyber sector.

No-one can dispute that the ad is easily parodied and that it is a soft target. This is also a way to lampoon the government and an awkwardly timed and phrased ad. However, this must not detract from the sound underlying idea and purpose of the campaign – to make the cyber sector more accessible and desirable – it just needed better presentation, a campaign that highlighted the very real need to support and grow the UK’s cyber sector.

Unfortunately, this serious issue has been completely undermined by the Government stoking the media storm by immediately throwing the organisers and the campaign under the bus. The Government needs to think a bit more before knee jerk reactions and to stop taking their cue from Twitter. Perhaps the government needs to “Rethink, Reskill, Reboot” its approach to criticism and online communications.

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