open letter to Avaaz

By , October 21, 2010 1:14 pm

Dear Avaaz,

I am a huge fan of Avaaz and regularly sign petitions. The beneficial changes the organization has achieved so far across the world are truly staggering and inspirational.

However the latest email I just received from you entitled “Hilton sex slaves” did not quite meet the high standards that I customarily expect, and in fact demand from an organisation whose now enormous membership base enables it to wield immense global political power.

The language used in the email sounds worryingly similar to the kind of article frequently found in the UK tabloid press, which deliberately uses sensationalist language (and frequent use of bold typeface) in order to manipulate the reader into agreeing with the writer’s viewpoint.

For example, the 3-word email subject is vague enough to imply that Hilton actively promotes or even organizes sex slavery. This is a far cry from an apathetic lack of preventative action, which is of course a genuine issue but nowhere near as bad.

Then the opening paragraph (“It’s shocking. Hilton […] could be complicit […]”) focuses on aggressive sensationalism rather than facts. The Pope could be complicit in a heroin trafficking, but is that shocking? No, of course it isn’t – until it’s proven fact, it remains unsubstantiated speculation.

Thirdly, the sidebar on the right states “Hilton refuses to sign an international code of conduct on sex trafficking” which directly contradicts this text in the main body of the article: “Hilton acknowledged its need to address the problem of child prostitution. But to date no concrete steps have been taken.” Again, the former is an active refusal to act, whereas the latter is a passive failure to act.

It also seems slightly odd that Hilton has been singled out for this campaign, given that other huge hotel chains such as IHG (incorporating Holiday Inn) and Marriott have not signed up to ECPAT‘s Code of Conduct either. I appreciate that Hilton’s terrible track record in this area should compel them to act without hesitation, but it is important that your campaigns should remain as balanced as possible. This could have been achieved by including a sentence in the email such as “Other large hotel chains such as IHG and Marriott have not signed up, but if we succeed in persuading Hilton to sign up, it will send out a strong message to their rivals to get on board too.”

Incidentally, the email omitted a link to the ECPAT website, which may seem like a trivial point, but it encourages your members to independently verify the facts provided, which strengthens the credibility of the campaign.

I should point out that I have no loyalties, connections, or other interests with Hilton or anyone else in the hotel industry. I’m purely concerned that Avaaz campaigns maintain an extremely high level of quality and accountability, and that the Avaaz “brand” name continues to be perceived as completely trustworthy, so that you can continue these wonderful achievements.

So please, don’t be tempted to stoop to Rupert Murdoch’s level by using sensationalist or manipulative language – just keep focusing on the facts and let people make their own minds up.

Last but not least, many thanks for all your amazing work so far!

Adam Spiers

P.S. I have also published this as an open letter on my blog at and would be very happy to include any replies from you there. (You can also comment directly there if you prefer.)

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