Social Media – socially aware or socialist’s playground?

Today has been an interesting day.

My time spent on Facebook has revealed the following:

  • a few pictures people have taken of their lunch
  • two videos of dogs doing unusual but amusing things
  • about a hundred updates on what level people have reached in online games
  • several motivational posts (usually a quote by Martin Luther King Jr or Nelson Mandela, against a sepia-tone beach scene) and
  • a very few posts about what people are actually doing.

There have been a few other posts though, which is what kinda makes me set my jaw against the way all social media seems to be used by certain groups. Let’s call them PALOMINOs (Political Activists Lying Over Morally Irritating  Notes of  Outrage). And like the horses of the American western movie, they are everywhere.

Today’s PALOMINO example popped up three times, and was a letter, ostensibly from a guy called ‘Steve Pottinger‘, writing to Cafe Nero returning his (free) loyalty card in protest against the amount of Corporation Tax the company paid last year. Apparently, had they paid tax it would have:

  • Paid for the NHS – or at least the care his father needed
  • Covered the salaries of all the nurses and doctors that came into contact with him
  • Paid for the education needs of all his nieces and nephews
  • Paid the housing benefit for everyone he knows on low income in high-rent areas

All from Cafe Nero’s Corporation Tax.

Now I’m all for stamping out tax evasion – don’t get me wrong. But it’s worth pointing out that Cafe Nero haven’t evaded any tax at all. On their revenues, profits, debt pay-downs and the corporate structure (the holding company for the franchised organisation is based offshore), they were not actually liable for any Corporation Tax, and therefore haven’t done anything wrong – either legally or morally.

What they HAVE done in the last year is pay over £21 million in VAT, and £13 million in NI contributions. So they are hardly the ogre that Steve Pottinger paints them as.

That made me wonder a little more why Steve was so outraged. So I dug a little, and it’s interesting…

Steve is a ‘poet’. His writing can be found on his website, which I have no desire or inclination to promote here. Go look it up, if you can be bothered.

However, he’s clearly in the market for making himself known by being as contentious as possible. Hence his connection with a group of PALOMINOs called Occupy London, through which he has published this letter. You remember Occupy London, don’t you? These were the group that went a-camping outside St Paul’s Cathedral a couple of years back, whilst all around them people simply ignored them and got on with their jobs until they went away. They are a staunchly anti-capitalist group, who see it as their life’s work to bring down the system, all the time leeching said system for all the benefits they can grab. They would see the entire financial industry smashed, and their targets are basically anyone who has any money that isn’t being given to them and their brethren.

All of this made me think about finance and taxation more than I really needed to today, but I have come to a few conclusions:

  1. Taxation pays for the state machine. Always has, always will.
  2. PALOMINOs such as Occupy London believe that legal tax avoidance is a scam to prevent the redistribution of wealth. It’s not – see point 1.
  3. They think that the way to change taxation laws are to boycott companies that operate legally. It’s not. One freebie latte more or less is meaningless.
  4. Anarchists really don’t get the way business works, but that doesn’t stop them spouting about it like ‘experts’. Here’s a hint: shouting at a banker doesn’t make you a financial expert, any more than smashing up a pizza restaurant makes you an Italian.
  5. Anarchists DO get social media, however. It’s the only way to explain why their messages are so widespread, and so readily picked up by the masses.

Here’s the thing: Companies should be more aware of the social implications of the way they operate. They should conduct themselves in a way that is fair to all – to everybody in their supply chain, to all of their customers, to all of their employees, and to the world at large. That doesn’t extend to giving away their entire profit to some lank-haired hippie squatting in a tent outside one of London’s major landmarks. And it doesn’t extend to paying more tax than the regulations and laws decree, because guess what, Steve? And guess what, Occupy? If they did, it would all be refunded! Because THAT’S the way the system works! It’s what we as individuals expect, and it’s the same for companies.

But then you’d know that as PALOMINOs, wouldn’t you, as you’re experts, having once staged a sit-down protest outside a branch of NatWest….



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