A week or so I was seated for a jury duty call and one of the questions asked during the juror interrogatory was literally that – where do you get your news, and specifically do you get it from Facebook or social media. In that instance the attorney was particularly concerned about jurors prejudicing themselves with information on the crime being tried, on the defendant, literally by taking it on their own initiative to investigate the case for themselves online.
It was a good question, a real concern and of course has much broader implications. It’s also something I address in considerable detail in my book Creating Chaos on political warfare which will be coming out in late summer/early fall. I was thinking about doing a post on this subject late last week, especially when the topic of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica came up in the news, both of which receive a good deal of attention in the final chapters of the book. Fortunately I was doing my research before Facebook removed certain of their advertising materials, featuring the capabilities of their demographic targeting, and its use in political messaging. A year ago that was something for them to tout – much of that is gone now – especially after the recent exposure of those its profiling capabilities and the impact it’s had on their stock.
The very thing that makes social media so addictive – its ability to track your preferences and guide you to materials which match them (not just in books, shopping, music, dating, etc) and so attractive for marketing (products, politics, messages, and for that matter hate) is what makes it so financially attractive in a business sense. Having worked in marketing and advertising for a couple of decades, I personally experienced the escalation in reader/viewer targeting which began in print, moved on to the broadcast media and then to the internet.
The goal was always to target your message as finely as possible, both geographically and demographically. The more information a given media collected and made available to the advertiser the better – it allowed messages to be finally tailored and delivered specifically to those who would be most likely to actually welcome them. And “advertorials” where viewed as an especially positive tool, providing facts to educate the reader/viewer while still promoting your product or service. The only limitation was that it was all very expensive because even the best options for slicing and dicing target groups were relatively limited in either print or broadcast media.
The fact that Facebook, or any social media outlet, can collect information for user profiling is both a service and an exposure, initially everybody loved it including American political parties…until the Russians jumped in with their own agenda and poisoned the well. My own caution here is that much of the current angst about purported academics sharing profile information collected on Facebook for commercial purposes is way too focused.
You should take a look at all your social media and research how it makes money from marketing and advertising (including not just ad clicks but page views), and think about how it could be in business without that. I have friends who happily used the customized marketing features of Facebook for their own purposes but now are concerned that “bad people” do the same thing with very loaded and nasty messaging.
Think about it a minute, do you set up your own social messaging selections only to track what you prefer in terms of news, excluding all others? Do you just follow the hashtags that excite you? Do you complain about people that only watch FOX, or MSNBC or perhaps RT…and then intentionally build walls about your own news choices? Digital communications of all forms have created the ability to customize the world we all see each day, which means they also tempt us into a process very similar to operant conditioning.
The Russian internet messaging is very skillful in the use of operant conditioning, providing both positive and negative reinforcement to its targeted demographics…telling you both good things and bad things, and channeling that information through people and sources you have shown a tendency to trust though your own preferences. It can be a very addictive process, ideal for religious and political recruiting as ISIS demonstrated and as a variety of nativist and racist groups are demonstrating in both the United States and Europe…check out the Florida school shooter’s conditioning experience as an example.
Bottom line, be very careful where you get your news – and don’t think the only worry is Facebook. Still, for a bit more on its specific problems, you might want the check out the following links: