When did I sign up to be sold?
Well, it’s finally happened – social media networks are being forced to come clean about how and where they make their vast fortunes. To most of us, these networks started as benign play things where we could post pictures and inflate our digital persona to make us look cooler than we actually were. As with most technology platforms, investors became involved and what started as a noble endeavor to make the world a better place was replaced with “how can this be scaled and monetized?”
Technology without accountability benefits no one
As these platforms grew and amassed gigabits of our personal information, it became apparent that all of this data was very valuable to advertisers. In fact, the holy grail of achieving one-to-one advertising was in reach. No more mass advertising, no more soft metrics for judging the success of the latest campaign, now the “click” became paramount. The click was validation that the advertising message has gotten through and elicited a response.
As our digital egos grew we started to collect more “friends”. Not that these were real friends — the kind you invite to share a vacation with or come to the family Christmas dinner with your ninety-year-old mother who loves to hit the champagne — but rather secondary friends, acquaintances, business associates, long lost high school friends, ex- girlfriends, ex-boyfriends, and such. You know — like-minded people that share the same views, socio-economic status, education level, likes and dislikes.
Out of sight – out of mind
As we became more comfortable with sharing our digital exploits, the thought never crossed our mind that these social media platforms were not looking out for our best interest. After all, this was a “free” service. Hindsight, though, reveals something darker, something different. As our data was merchandised to first, second, and third party aggregators, sponsored posts began appearing in our social network feeds. Sometimes for clothes, or legal services, or just a little bit of soft porn. Nothing to get really upset about, after all it’s a “free” service.
With success comes responsibility
Now we come to find out a foreign actor manipulated these platforms to sway our presidential election. How did this happen? Very simply, there is a disconnect between perception and reality. Social media platforms cultivate the perception of technology providers. The reality is that they are dominate media networks reaching hundreds of millions of connected users, reaping billions of dollars in profit.
Before these networks existed, social media was referred to as gossip. Media buying for advertising was left to professionals that adhered to a code of conduct for truth in advertising. Those that chose not to conform were libel for false advertising and subjected to the letter of the law. The ability to self-publish coupled with the fact that anyone can purchase advertising space has created an animal never seen before, one that has Orwellian connotations, masquerading as a lovable baby taking their first steps.