Stop saying your social media accounts got "hacked"

Readers beware: there is an elite group of mischievous hackers forcing their way into the social media accounts of unsuspecting victims and posting dumb shit on their behalf in order to whip the media into a frenzy and do lasting reputational damage. These hackers must be stopped.

One of them recently got into the Twitter account of The Dignity Project, a Scottish charity working in Africa with orphans and vulnerable children. The dastardly devil managed to cross-post an extremely rude tweet from a Facebook status update about beloved author of wizard books, JK Rowling.

Dignity Project Tweet scandal

Oh the horror! This prompted an outcry from the public and a very serious investigation was launched by very serious charity regulators. The good folks at The Dignity Project quickly put out a curiously worded statement to clear the air and explain to the world what had gone on.

The Dignity Project has had it's Twitter account hacked
We are not responsible for any tweets that have been sent.
As a charity we  do not take any political stance and our opinion is people are free to donate to whoever they choose.
To the people who hacked our account if helping African children to thrive and survive including single mums is bad thing that is their problem. 

Think of the single mums! Astonishingly, the bastard hacker has managed to keep the tweet up for TWO FULL DAYS at the time of writing. Yup, it's still there. Why oh why has this happened to good people saving orphans?!

OK let's get real for a minute. Nobody hacked The Dignity Project's severely neglected Twitter account. It was, until just a day or so ago, linked directly to the Facebook account of William McDonald-Wood, one of the founders of The Dignity Project. If you clicked on the links on the Twitter feed, they'd take you straight to the corresponding posts on his Facebook page. Once the world had gone mad jumping to the defence of lovely JK, that Facebook account was deleted. Notice the FB link in the bitch tweet. Despite going AWOL from Facebook, the said chap does, however, still have his own personal neglected Twitter feed up, although it's not much to look at.

Here's what happened: William set up the Dignity Project Twitter account back in 2009 and he didn't really know what to do with it, so he just followed a few people, linked it to his Facebook account and then forgot about it/lost access to it. Everything went up there, including the books he and his wife were trying to flog on eBay.

Months and then years passed without anything earth-shattering happening. He did call David Cameron an asshole, but there was surprisingly no fallout from that tweet.

Dignity Project Tweet scandal

Oh, and he also had a problem with Maria Miller…

Dignity Project Tweet scandal

…the Lib Dems…

Dignity Project Tweet scandal

…David Cameron again…

Dignity Project Tweet scandal

…and the list goes on. They've also been "hacked" before!

Dignity Project Tweet scandal

There are a few things we can all learn from this debacle:

  • Linked FB/Twitter accounts are the work of the devil
  • If you're not going to do social media well, don't do it all
  • Don't set up social media accounts if you aren't going to use them effectively
  • Have a purpose to your social media; don't just do it for the sake of it
  • Have a crisis comms plan in place in case things do go wrong
  • Don't blame "hackers" when you stuff up
  • Be honest about your mistakes and don't make things worse by lying

Dignity Project Tweet scandal

What's it like to visit Kazakhstan?

"I'll have the T-bone horse steak," I said.

The waiter looked at me, a little confused.

"Foreigners don't normally oder that. Are you sure?"

"Quite sure," I replied.

Twenty minutes later I did indeed have a T-bone horse steak before me.

IMAG0116

By all accounts, this was not a typical Kazakh dish. Sure, they eat a lot of horse there, but normally in a form a little more traditional than a T-bone steak. Still, it tasted pretty good, like a cross between liver and beef. The meat also had a peculiar smell that seemed to fill the room. I received a satisfied nod of approval from the waiter after I'd finished my meal.

Welcome to Kazakhstan, I thought.

IMAG0054

I was in Astana, capital of Kazakstan, for a work trip. The Asian Development Bank was holding its Annual Meeting there and I was helping out with the youth engagement part of all that, working with a group of young people who had come from around the region to be part of a youth forum and a Civil Society Program.

IMAG0062

This was probably the first time I'd been to a country and not really known a single thing about it. What struck me immediately upon arrival was the people. Many of them really epitomised this kind of meeting of Russia and Asia in everything from how they looked to how they spoke. I just didn't expect to hear these thick, Russian/Kazakh accents coming out of the mouths of people whom my ignorant mind was trying to place in East Asia.

IMAG0069

Fickle observations were about as far as I got with the people. I spent a lot of time walking around and exploring Astana and was generally viewed with indifference everywhere I went. Saying hello to people was usually met with looks of confusion and mild panic, even in the hotel where I was staying. So I didn't exactly make a great deal of friends among the locals. Nobody speaks a lick of English, which makes even the most basic communication difficult.

IMAG0111

The closest I got to making friends was when a colleague and I hitched a ride across town with a young chainsmoking couple who insisted on showing us pictures of a car they were trying to either restore or sell to us, I'm unsure which. When I say "hitched a ride" I actually mean "caught a taxi". There are real taxis in Astana, but you rarely see them. Instead, you just hitch a ride with anyone who happens to be going in the same direction and give them a couple of bucks for their troubles. I don't know how this figures into safety briefings and whatnot, but that's the only way to get around unless you plan walking everywhere, which I did from time to time.

IMAG0124

Walking around was great for two reasons: the climate and the scenery. The climate is out of this world. It's cold — like, really cold — but the air is so crisp and fresh that you don't really mind. There's none of this miserable wind and rain that makes the British cold so uncomfortable. It was actually a pleasure to go out and to feel weather.

IMAG0153

Then there was the scenery. Astana is the most peculiar place I think I've ever been. It's a largely empty city with very few people. But there are these enormous, remarkable structures everywhere. You cannot go from one street to another without seeing a building that takes your breath away. The architecture is incredible. I can't imagine the amount of oil money that has been put into making Astana look like this. By the end of the week, it kind of dawned on me that I'd only really been taking pictures of buildings. Nothing else.

IMAG0180

That's the thing about Astana. All these buildings are recent developments, a result of the capital city being moved there in 1997. At that time, the place was virtually empty. Now, it looks like something from a sci-fi movie. As soon as you get to the outskirts of the city, however, you see that there's just nothing else around. Visitors to the capital are in awe of the magnificence of everything they see, but it's not really a reflection of the country as a whole, so in this way it's a little misleading. I'm not sure if I really got to visit Kazakhstan, as such, or more, a weird futuristic gateway.

This was reflected in the kind of activities that were organised for us. We saw a ballet in this remarkable, extravagant opera house, the likes of which I'd never seen. We were treated to fine food and wine. We saw stunning performances of opera, ballet and music. It all felt strangely inauthentic though.

IMAG0262

There are only about 800,000 people in Astana, while the whole country is home to about 18 million. The country is massive though, so on average you only have about 6 people per square kilometre, making it one of the least densely populated places on earth. You can't escape this emptiness, even in Astana.

IMAG0451

Kazakhstan gets most of its money from oil and gas reserves. The energy sector is huge. In 2012, exports were close to $87 billion, 59% of that were oil and oil products. So there are a lot of people getting rich in the country. Despite that, the services sector is the biggest employer, followed by agriculture. Corruption is an issue that remains a problem.

IMAG0531

Then there's the politics, or lack of it. President Nursultan Nazarbayev has been the leader of the country since 1991, when the country became independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He's a dictator. There's no other way to put it. And with that come limits to freedom of speech, political freedom, corruption and more. Yet the country is stable and per capita GDP has increased twelvefold since 1994. Life is generally pretty good for a lot of people and it doesn't look like there's much in the way of an anti-Nazarbayev movement in the country.

IMAG0535

Kazakhstan, or the bits of it I've seen, is an interesting, diverse country, but I would not say it's an obvious choice for a holiday, despite curiosities like military parades and missiles being driven through the streets. I would love to go back and spend a little more time travelling around the country, but it's not the kind of place where you can just rock up with a backpack and expect to get around.

IMAG0816

Thailand's first tweets

All right, these are not really Thailand's first tweets, but they are the first tweets of some of Thailand's most well-known tweeters, in English, at least. This list was selected just off the top of my head really, so I'm sure there are heaps of interesting people I missed out. If you find any funny ones that aren't posted here, let me know in the comments and I'll add them.

Park life

So what's it like to be back? That's the question I keep asking myself. It's been about a week now, but to be honest, it could have been a month or a year. It just feels normal — not in the sense of falling into an old routine, but more like this is where I'm supposed to be.

On my previous trips back to the UK, I've always felt this overwhelming, depressing sense of nostalgia. Even during my year studying in London, it was as if I was struggling to fully reconnect with my environment, stuck in the mindset that I'd soon be leaving again. This time, I haven't needed to reconnect and readjust. Everything has just kind of clicked.

Sure, it's fun doing little things again, like catching a bus or riding the tube or going to Tesco to do some shopping, but I'm doing it at the kind of pace that means it's barely noticeable. I'm in no rush. I have no restraints. There's a great deal of time for soaking it in and reflecting.

Today, we went for a walk around our local park. Yeah, I could do that in Bangkok, sure, but I rarely did. Most weekends I'd end up in a mall or some other kind of manmade monstrosity, dazzled by special offers and bright lights.

London park

I'm lucky to live in southeast London, away from the hipsters and the central city life. Life is really easygoing here. People are friendly and the transport links are decent. If I have to go to the city it's normally a £4.40 day fare on my Oyster card, which is manageable as I don't need to travel all the time.

Speaking of travelling, I have rediscovered the joys of walking. In Bangkok, I barely walked anywhere. There was hardly ever a need to and the hot weather made it so uncomfortable. Now there is a great deal of walking to be done and the cool climate makes it rather pleasant. I'm hoping these long walks from place to place will save me the joys of putting on weight in my 30s. I'll let you know how that goes.

On leaving

People keep asking me if I’m leaving Thailand because of the protests. As dramatic a swan song as that would be, my reasons for heading off are far more mundane. It’s just time to go home. I landed in Thailand nearly nine years ago and have since spent about half that time in Bangkok with stints based in Phuket, Timor-Leste and, even, London. It has been a curious, often-times surprising, life-changing journey from A to B, but that journey has come to an end and it’s time to begin a new stage of my life.

When I moved here, fresh out of uni and with an overwhelming desire to rebel against "the system" as I perceived it, I vowed that I would never return to the UK. It felt good to up sticks and leave. I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do, but I knew I needed to go somewhere far away and explore the world a little. It was all rather cliché, but that didn’t negate how empowering it was to me.

So what’s changed? Well, a great deal has happened in that nine years: I’m now 31 years old, I have some solid work experience behind me, I’m married and I have a dog. These all sound like relatively grownup things, and while I still feel like I’m barely out of my teens, the reality is that I’m not as young as I used to be. I’ve lost that urge to be an expat and I’m kinda missing home.

In the time I’ve been away, friends from home have got married, been on stag weekends, had children, bought houses and done all manner of other things. For the most part, I’ve missed it all. There’s only so far Facebook can bridge that gap. My closest, best friends are almost all in the UK while the bulk of my family are there or near enough and it’s only as time has gone on that this has started to bother me.

There are a handful of interconnected reasons why people choose to live somewhere: the place, the lifestyle, friends, family, work. For a long time, it was place that was most important to me. Then came the lifestyle, then work and now we are back to friends and family. Of course I’ve made friends while I’ve been out here, some very good ones, but as the pace of my lifestyle has calmed down a lot over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed that I’ve started meeting fewer and fewer people who I’ve really had any connection with, and as a result, I’ve become increasingly antisocial.

I’m not out partying or DJing like I was before and I’m not so keen on tweetups and social gatherings. I just don’t really find myself seeking out new adventures and I feel a little fatigued by the Thailand lifestyle. I’m no longer all wide-eyed and open-jawed, as I was when I wrote The Lost Boy column for Guru mag way back when. Times have indeed changed. I don’t do all that much other than work, eat at places, go on occasional trips and attend a party now and again.

It’s not that I’ve fallen out of love with Thailand, it’s more that I’m just not in the right frame of mind to be here and my life is about more than just me now. Will I be back? Possibly. Not to live, but if work ends up bringing me here, I’ll return. Time will tell.

I don't imagine my life will be all roses and glitter back in London, but I'm certain I'll feel more contented. The cost of living in London doesn't daunt me too much at this stage as I have work lined up already, fingers crossed, but I'm sure I'll miss cheap food and transport. It will be nice to buy a house at some point in the not-too-distant future and, who knows, start a family. Maybe some day I'll even have assets other than my Macbook, Xbox and camera. Maybe.

So, Thailand, and Asia in general really, it’s been emotional. See ya.

Photo: RHiNO NEAL/FlickR