Whisky galore!

My Facebook stream has been full of whisky - pictures, links, prices - all evening. The internet tends to react like that to news like this. For the Finnish-challenged the gist of the story is about as follows:

A Helsinki-based Beer and Whisky Expo got a stern note from the "Aluehallintovirasto", a regional government official, that any mentions of the word "whisky" are absolutely banned, because of the Finnish alcohol laws. So they had to change the name to "Beer Expo". And not only that, no private blog may talk about whisky in connection to this event, or the event would get its license revoked and could no longer serve alcohol. So the expo had contacted a couple of bloggers who had already written about this, who were nice people and removed the blog posts, since as fans, they didn't want to ruin the show. The officials allegedly said that "no google search for 'viski' (Finnish for whisky) must end up on their page".

OK. First of all, multiple other officials had already okayed all this - their company is even registered under this name. Second, they are threatening that if private people write about the show, the show gets the punishment. So basically me mentioning that you might get some nice Islay whiskies (for example, the Caol Ila I am just enjoying, which should cost you 5-7€ per 2cl in the expo to taste) in the show, the show might just suddenly cease to exist. The thought does make me giddy with power - HA, I CAN RUIN LIVES AND ENTIRE EVENTS WITH THE MIGHTY POWER OF MY KEYBOARD - but the sad fact is that I am in no way connected to the show.

So the Finnish alcohol law is a bit of a fuckup. I get the point though - alcohol abuse does kill/maim/injure a shitload of people every year, either directly or indirectly, and it is arguably the most dangerous legal drug out there. So yeah, reducing overall consumption is an admirable goal, one which I support. And, at the turn of the year, it's going to get even more strict when it comes to alcohol advertisements: Practically every place where a minor could possibly see even a beer logo will have to be cleared out, which is already annoying people.

Unfortunately the law reads like it was designed in the 1980s, where you still had a clear separation of businesses and individuals. These days, the internet has turned almost any profession from a binary yes/no thing to a continuum of newbies,enthusiasts,amateurs,hobbyists,hard-core hobbyists,pro-amateurs,experts and professionals. Bloggers get free goodies from companies so that they would write about them, just like critics get free books from authors so that they could review them. "Buzz marketing" and "virals" are standard tools for any marketer, and they're as meticulously planned out as any TV campaign of old.

So, if a blogger writes about your expo, and happens to know some of the products present, and talks about them, is it marketing or not? There's no way to tell. It could be just an enthusiast, it could be the well-intentioned target of a viral, or it could be a paid advertisement. But in every case, it is a private individual, not a company. And that's where the laws start to fail - it is very difficult to make a law where you would still claim to have the basic freedom of speech, but at the same time say that marketing a particular product is forbidden.

The Finnish government does not seem to have a good solution to this either. They have actually even asked Facebook to remove the "Share" button on any Finnish brewery pages, so that no-one could accidentally share the knowledge about beer (good luck there). However, at the same time it's totally ok for e.g. Fosters to have a Share button on their pages, because obviously the Finnish government can't do shit about breweries in foreign countries. So they choose to try to cripple the locals instead. Now they're suspecting that the Beer and Whisky Expo is using private individuals to do marketing for them, and hence have entered a very slippery slope which can only either end up with them either banning talking about liquor in Finnish blogs completely, denying alcohol licenses for any current and future expo in Finland, or just letting the thing continue in a very weird state of non-legalness-that's-actually-not-enforced.

What kinda saddens me in advance is that even if this thing was brilliantly leaked to a major newspaper on a Saturday (and no government official works on the weekends, so the whole thing can gather internet rage for two full days), the officials have a perfect defense: this is how the law was written, so complain to the Parliament. And the Parliament members will use the whole thing to gather politicopoints by issuing stern comments about how the officials are interpreting the law wrong, and how stupid the whole thing is, etc. Unfortunately, we have elections coming up very soon, and politicopoints are right now more valued than actually doing something. So I'm not expecting much to happen to this, even though a lot of people will be writing about this in their blogs and Facebook timelines and heck, #viski is even trending on Twitter right now. I'm pretty sure a lot of people are instagramming their whisky bottles right now too, as a not-so-subtle comment about what they think of this too.

I'm fairly sure I wouldn't even have remembered the Beer and Whisky Expo, if it wasn't for this noise. So good going, "aluehallintovirasto". Best possible advertisement there. Well done indeed. Does that count as alcohol advertisement and can you give yourself a fine now? Tip: Look up "Streisand effect".

Our government and officials still don't understand the change that the internet has brought to the world. You can no longer put things in neat boxes, because all the boxes are broken and everybody's playing on the floor now. It's not even clear anymore if and when money changes hands, thanks to stuff like product placements, free and plentiful samples, viral marketing and Bitcoin. And I get it. I know it's really hard. I don't have answers myself either. But what I do know is that you can no longer do the laws the same way you have always done by people who don't understand the networked nature of our current existence.

The internet isn't about putting PDFs online so that you can email opinions during a comment period. The internet isn't about the unwashed masses of comment troll hordes. The internet is an amplifier, an equalizer, and a transformation of almost every single aspect of our lives. And the laws of the future must, absolutely must, take that into account in all aspects.

Update: The official is saying that the expo organizer overreacted. Regardless, the situation is complicated, and it looks to me like the expo organizer understands the internet a lot better than the official - if the instructions are that the site must not be found on Google, then they really have no choice but to request everyone to stop blogging about it.

Update2: The boss of the said gov official agrees that this all may have been an overreaction, and would appear to basically have her head screwed on straight on this topic. Unfortunately, the officials only interpret the law, don't make it.



--Juha Olkkonen, 12-Oct-2014

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"Main_blogentry_111014_1" last changed on 12-Oct-2014 15:40:59 EEST by JanneJalkanen.
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