January 26, 2018 – I get asked, "How can the paper afford you…" Good question since they don't (and shouldn't) pay anything (including a free paper.) Ah, you wonder, thinking of the hours and research, then why's he doing it? Let's put this in today's jargon: I get the benefit of cross-platforming, expanding reach and viral media response, expanding my platform. I should. I don't.
So what the heck is this week's article about? Social media, outreach using viral media platforms. Really, this article is supposed to make you think how pernicious such outreach business is. Countless millions of people tweet (I don't), post articles, make comments on Facebook (like this, sad that), Spotify, Pinterest, etc., feeling they are reaching out, expanding their footprint on the world, connecting with someone, anybody, somewhere. Some do it to sell homemade jams, some do it to launch a movie career, some do it to spin the world in their favor (they think). Yes, some do it for nefarious purpose (Russian hacking of social media) and some do it purely out of ego to feel important or to cover lies. And everyone who goes on social media, anywhere in the world, is actually, simply, doing the bidding and feeding the financial machine of the likes of Google, Yahoo (Verizon), Apple, Twitter and a host of other social data-gathering companies.
What is Google's or Apple's core business? Gathering data about you and everyone you know. They know every step you take (literally footstep) – what, you thought they made phones and phone operating systems to help you? That's the tradeoff. They know where you are every moment your phone is on, what you are doing, where you are going, what you are looking at, calling, scrolling, playing, listening to, searching for, buying and feeling. Yes, feeling. There are patterns in your behavior. Their AI computer systems know what music you have or listen to. If you are listening to the Beatles, you're feeling nostalgic compared to listening to Imagine Dragons. If you binge watch a comedy clip on YouTube, you could be feeling depressed, especially if instead of the regular coffee at Starbucks you buy the one with extra caramel. When you search roses and text a recent date asking if you can come over, AI knows, sometimes before you do, what you are hoping for.
You think Google, Bing, Facebook, Twitter and all are free? Nope. Besides tracking you so they can target you for sales (which they get a commission on), targeting you for political ads (which they get a commission for), they can complete your and millions of other people's preferences – either by locale or region – or by country or political affiliation – and then go a-marketing with advertising and business "outreach" platforms. Google advertising execs can come into a pizza store in a little village and target as small an audience as 3,000 locals. And when that proves effective, they can convince you to "go online with your product" expanding the market area in lock-step with your company expansion capabilities. Sounds great, right? Remember, they are also collecting all your success data, using that as their (intellectual) property and building their database for their expansion.
Expansion for what end? If it was only advertising and advertising platforms (which it naively appears to be), it seems justifiable. Kind of like good market research and polling, surely Google, Facebook, Twitter and Bing have a right to that business, no? Yet Facebook, for example, is one of the world's fastest-growing companies that makes absolutely nothing and offers a free service. Ten minutes after you sign up on Facebook, they are peddling your data, images' interpretation, location, contacts and background to people selling or promoting something. They give you Facebook for your friends so they can collect and own all your data for sale.
How does this matter to you? And why? It's free, right? So what if they get something out of me looking at cute dog tricks? There is a downside, as we saw in the last election. The Russian intervention, especially on Facebook and Twitter, was that they were given pathways for their propaganda. Gone are the days of dropping leaflets from a passing airplane. Russia sought, and got, the pathway for the anti-Hillary type people whom they fed ridiculous lies to. They seek, and still get, pathways to the "deep state" believers where they peddle "#releasethememo" tweets. And, yes, make no mistake, they sought and got the pathways to the "right are evil" believers feeding them nonsense as well.
This year, as a nation, we're facing two crises (hopefully only two) in which viral media will have a tenfold greater impact than the last election. Yes, tenfold. The last two years of data accumulation is packaged and ready to go.
First are the investigations already underway at the FBI and special prosecutor. When their findings are made public, 90 percent of what you heard or read pundits posting online will be proved false or deliberately misleading: 90 percent. Second are the November elections. If anyone thinks that gerrymandering is the only problem facing our electoral system this year, you are not paying attention to the might, access to private information (person-by-person, not just regional polling) and targeting persuasion that political parties will have access to.
You want to "buy" a local election? Go to Google and Facebook first. They can construct an "advertising" platform – person by person access - to ensure likely voters will be swayed for you and also, importantly, will inundate non-likely voters with apathy and disinformation to keep them from being likely voters for your opposition. Remember, traditional media depend on the revenue stream from campaigning. Now, you can be sure, new viral media companies will gobble up the cash – and all the while you'll have no proof of too many TV ads, too many radio spots to evaluate that there's too much money in politics. It'll all be hidden from view. It'll appear free, your TV viewing won't be spoiled, so what if Facebook has a few more political messages, that Twitter will prioritize messages they want you to read and react to?
Madison Avenue pioneered the media blitz techniques in the '50s. It's a whole new – almost untraceable – world now and, more than ever, you need to know what's going to happen. Why? Because it is coming, like a tsunami, and when it is over, unless you are forewarned, you'll again say, "I had no idea!"