Donald Trump’s 2016 digital campaign director claimed to have run 5.9 million visual ads on Facebook, in contrast to Hillary Clinton’s 66,000.
When I was in Junior High School we had a “lifestyle” class the rotated each quarter, or 10-week marking period. One of the lifestyle classes in the rotation was General Art. Taught by a passionate Mr. Tassone, one of our exercises included taking turns standing on a desk and modeling in front of the class while our peers sketched our pose. I’m horrible at drawing; I’m lucky if I can sketch a stick figure and remember all the appendages, but one thing stuck out during this lesson: “no two people will sketch the exact same thing because no two people can have the exact same perspective.”
While this certainly applied to the stick figure I was drawing at the time, it really is something that applied to life. Who knew that Mr. Tassone would offer such a nugget of wisdom in a required class?
The differing perspective of an art subject is very much like what we experience on services like Facebook today. Because of the careful curation, regurgitation, and thousands of other data points in the Great Algorithm of Facebook, no two experiences on the social media platform are alike. What I see on my Facebook feed is nothing like what a straight, white, conservative male in RandomTown, Red State is going to see. True, we might both see the same Gillette ad, or the latest rage in a snack chip, but when it comes to pushing ads tailored to our respective demographics, there’s going to be little overlap.
Now, imagine one of us has been identified as a “Persuadable”. Let’s say the straight, white, conservative male in RandomTown, R.S. has been on the fence when it comes to voting for Clinton or Trump in the 2016 Election. He knows Clinton is a Democrat but she’s rather middle of the road on a lot of the things he believes in. He also knows Trump is a blowhard from Manhattan who’s lost a lot of money in casinos and god knows what else. Our friend in R.S. really doesn’t feel like he has a great choice for President and he’s trying to make a good decision at the polls. His vote is a secret, after all, so he might just vote for Hillary after all and not just talk about it. He partakes in a few political discussions on Facebook and is subsequently identified as a Persuadable.
Cambridge Analytica then uses that data to flood his timeline with a crazy amount of propaganda swaying him in the direction of their client. There are no guard rails to guarantee the ads being pushed at him are based in any sort of truth, but the FCC doesn’t apply here, so the spin on television is a walk through a poppy field compared to the ridiculous vitriol spun through Facebook ads.
Our friend’s family back East can’t figure out why he’s solidly flipped to Trump because they don’t see the ads he’s being subjected to on his timeline. Everyone’s Facebook feed is different and unless you pose as a Persuadable, you’re not going to see an ad targeted to at them. Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandburg don’t care; they’re worried about rolling in as much money as possible because in the United States, money is power. Status is power. Fame is power. Mark and Sheryl want to be rich and famous, and they have set aside any resemblance of a moral compass to feed that demon they have inside. I’m sure I’ll chat about my disgust of them in many future blog entries.
Folks like to screech about Cambridge Analytica and their scandal and quite frankly, they deserve to be screeched about because they’re a company devoid of any sort of moral foundation. Like Mark and Sheryl, they want money, and some folks at Cambridge Analytica would probably get elementary school kids addicted to Meth if it increased their bottom line and pleased a top paying client. But the truth of the matter is Facebook does whatever they want, paying token fines for their behavior, because they are unregulated.
Personally, I believe if you can’t make that claim on the Evening News on traditional television, you shouldn’t be able to advertise it on Facebook.
Are things going to change? Not under this administration, it benefits them too much. Right now the only way to change Facebook is to abandon the platform. Hard to do? Absolutely. Hell, I have an account on Facebook and I’m still active on there, mostly sharing photos and talking about stupid crap. One day I’ll get an ad for MAGA hats and the next day I have Kamala Harris begging me for money. The Gillette ads still coming along with regularity.
But I do my very best to eliminate Facebook from any other of my online interactions. I don’t “Sign In With Facebook”, I don’t allow cookies, and I use “Private Browsing” mode in both Safari and Firefox. Google Chrome? Oh hell no. Using Google Chrome for web browsing is like walking through town naked while screaming your personal business at the top of your lungs.
As I said in an earlier blog entry, technology has vastly outpaced society’s grasp of what we have at our disposal these days.
Digital rights are human rights. Interestingly enough, personal data is now more valuable than oil.
It’s time to take our digital rights back.
A little more about the documentary “The Great Hack”.