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Guest Column: USF #MeanTweets Video Is “Disingenuous And Misleading At Best”

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[ED note: TDS saw Dr. Matthew Morrison’s (@UMEE_VLSI) take on Twitter and asked him to compile all of it here.]

The backlash on Facebook and Twitter to the USF academic logo rebrand over the last month has been fierce, and over the last few days USF has had a clear change in strategy in selling the logo from “this is the appropriate logo for our professional growth” to “look at us, we can make fun of ourselves about this!”

On Halloween, they portrayed the Headless Horseman with the new logo at the graves of the old brands.

Thursday, USF released a “Mean Tweets” (and clear damage control) campaign regarding their new academic logo.

The reaction to the video was not positive. Many focused on the misguided attempt to justify the logo through a 55-student focus group which “unanimously approved” of the logo, and rightfully so.

Several tweets pointed out the flaws with a 55-person sample size:

But something else bothered me.

I earned my Bachelor’s, Masters, and Doctoral degrees at USF, and have always admired USF’s commitment to research excellence. (The university hosts the National Academy of Inventors for a reason).

At the end of the video, it is claimed that 15% of the parents, HS, and college students surveyed went from “unlikely to consider” to “willing to consider” USF.

That’s a great increase, and if that can be extrapolated to the general population, then it makes perfect sense why USF would be ignoring the public backlash... provided that data is verifiable. I searched up and down for this survey, and was unable to find it.

I searched for USF logo survey. USF parents high school students university students, removed the quotes, searched USF’s page and everything... still couldn’t find the survey. The results/methods are not publicly available. Considering USF’s status as an R1 institute, that is a problem.

USF did cite “BrandNew” with the claim that “This is the most enthused I’ve been about a university rebrand in some time.” It struck me as weird that USF cited a company, but the quote is written in the 1st person with no name attached. So I looked it up.

A quick Google search, and I found it! The author of the quote is Armin Vit, the founder of Brand New. His blog post with the quote is here, and his write up is actually fairly insightful, particularly the challenge of designing logos with the letter “F”.

I actually appreciated reading this, because my initial reaction to the logo was that it appeared haphazard and lazy, but the insight from a professional made it clear there was actual effort involved.

As best as I can tell, BrandNew is not part of the committee that designed the logo, so no conflict of interest. I scrolled down to the comments to see what people who are logophiles had to say. Many of them were not as big of fans, but one of the comments stuck out to me...

Wait, why does “He’s a fancy bull” sound familiar?... Then, it hit me!

I realized that many the “Mean Tweets” actually came from comments from the same blog post. That “dog relieving itself” comment? Yep!

The athletics mark and this new identity go together like lamb and tuna fish? Comment, not a tweet.

John Deere meets Merrill Lynch meets not a tweet. Blog post comment from the same post!

“USF the bank you can trust” (or count on)

While there was no exact quote that matched the tweet, there were several blog comments about the socks. Neither the USF Facebook or Twitter pages have any tweets about the socks, so I’m presuming this is a misquoted comment from this post (Of course, I’ll allow for the possibility this is from a private tweet).

I couldn’t find some of the others in that thread. But you know what those comments aren’t? Tweets. (Maybe they are on Facebook, or they are private tweets, but who knows) Look at these tweet searches (note: I didn’t use quotes). This means they are either generic Facebook comments or nonexistent, since nobody has ever tweeted any tweet with these combination of words.

I found a couple of others that were on Twitter, but were responses to the Tampa Bay Times, and were decidedly NOT engagements on USF social media. There is no response to any @USouthFlorida tweet with the word Terribull until after the most recent “Mean Tweets” tweet.

The difference between “tweets” and “internet comments” is not a trivial distinction. The premise of this video is that USF is getting a lot of engagement on social media. Yet, in order to find “tweets” for their Mean Tweets video, they used statements that were 1) not from social media at all or 2) were tweets that were not engaging USF.

The video is disingenuous and misleading at best. I figure this is because the reaction on social media is so poor that they are now doubling down on a bad decision with even worse decisions. Which brings me to my bigger concern: where is this survey? I mean, no Google results?!? No results available on the university webpage?

Look, I get where USF is coming from initially. People are loathe to accept change. I’m current a professor at Ole Miss, and a significant percentage of the fan base is still angry about Colonel Reb 15 years later. I understand why USF is remiss to acquiesce to a mob mentality. But the Ole Miss / Colonel Reb situation is instructive. Many of the people I’ve talked to about it get the reasons why you have to switch from Colonel Reb. Lots of Ole Miss fans contend the Colonel is not racist… but it’s far too easy for recruiters from other schools to convince 5-star recruits that it is. And most of the fans get that, even if they want Colonel Reb back.

But the thing that most people are still ticked off after 15 years is that the university commissioned a survey that said most of the students preferred a Black Bear mascot over Colonel Reb or a landshark (or, hilariously, Admiral Ackbar), and the methods behind that survey were dubious at best, and not public. Many of the fans aren’t mad that the Colonel is gone per se, it’s that they felt the university lied to them.

So if USF thinks this is going to go away, they are mistaken. People may forget the Golden Brahman, but they don’t forget being lied to by their alma mater.

Even worse, when they come up with surveys and methods that are clearly meant to find a specific result (i.e. the 55-student survey), do not make survey results or methods public, include misleading quotes and statements, they do much more damage than a poor logo.

These actions call into question the legitimacy and integrity of anyone who has earned a degree and conducted research at USF. I AM ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE. I have a BS, MS, and PhD from USF. The methods in this video CHEAPEN THE VALUE OF MY DEGREES.

Now, I’m willing to admit I’m wrong the survey is made publicly available. However, this video was a misguided and misleading attempt to justify a poor decision, and it’s now causing actual harm and needs to stop immediately.