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UK govt advert encouraging re-skilling for cyber jobs implodes spectacularly

Minister disowns 'crass' spot that shows American woman as Brit ballerina and seemingly belittles beleaguered arts sector

The UK government has pulled an ad campaign that encouraged retraining for a job in cyber-security.

The ad appears to have been an emission of the CyberFirst programme at the UK's National Cyber Security Centre, an effort that encourages young people to consider acquiring the skills they'll need to pursue a career in cyber-stuff.

The centre yesterday issued ads on social media that depicted people going about their business with captions suggesting that their next gig could involve a not-entirely-improbable shift to the exciting frontiers of infosec.

But one ad – which depicted a ballerina lacing up her slippers and was captioned "Fatima's next job could be in cyber (she just doesn't know it yet)" – struck a nerve...

A few problems were quickly identified with the ad, the first of which is that "Fatima" is not a British resident and is not called Fatima. She's really named Desire'e Kelley and the image used in the ad appears to have been sourced from an Instagram post depicting a dance studio in Atlanta, US. The image also excises another dancer. And to top it off, Fatima's body shape is not common among professional dancers, leading to criticism the ad unkindly suggests she needs a new gig because she's overweight.

Another issue is that the arts are among the industries hardest-hit by pandemic-prompted restrictions on gatherings, a fact that the UK government has recognised with apparent additional financial support.

With the government both supposedly supporting the arts and suggesting it's time to hang up the tutu and get excited about firewall rules instead, reaction to the ad was swift and brutal. Sci-Fi author Charles Stross, who has kindly mentioned The Register in some of his books and may even have named a character as a homage to the Bastard Operator From Hell, offered withering criticism as follows.

The matter blew up enough that Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden took to Twitter to condemn the ad.

The BBC elicited similar sentiments from the prime minister's office and the ad was quickly banished to the digital netherworld.

But that action was of course too late to stop the ad being widely satirised...

The ad was also tied to the UK's previous big tech mess. ®

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