Social Media has pretty much become a norm of everyday life for most people. I started up my Facebook account about 9 years ago…..but have only really been using it for about the past 5. Recently, I started to look behind the curtain to all the tools that Facebook offers to ad buyers and came to a stark realization.
Facebook is a rabbit hole…..a deep, dark rabbit hole.
Consider Microsoft Word for a moment. Most people who use this program are capable of 3 things: Type, Save, and Print. These folks are AWARE of the thousands of other functions, but since they don’t need to go beyond the basic functionality of the program, that’s just hunky dory to them. Facebook is in large part the same. All those little icons on the side, all those drop downs and settings, all those flags and feeds and notifications….they all DO stuff. But most of us don’t care. We long on, scroll down our news feed, we like a few things, comment on a couple of things, share a meme, and move on. Totally innocent, right?
Well…..not so much.
I always tell my kids, don’t do ANYTHING on a phone or on a computer that you would not be comfortable doing on the 50-yard line of a packed football stadium. Because that is what you are doing on Social Media. Unlike Microsoft Word, Social Media watches back. But what exactly is it watching?
Social Media platforms are businesses. Businesses sell products to make money. But clearly, we don’t PAY for Facebook or Instagram, so what are they selling? Well….to be blunt, they are selling YOU. Everything you do on Facebook is worth money to people who are trying to sell things….because they REALLY want to know if you are predisposed to BUY their things. Back when I was a kid, advertising was a shotgun blast. Someone put their commercial on TV, Radio, or a Billboard, and just hoped that someone who was interested in their product would happen to see it. That’s VERY inefficient. With such a process, maybe 1 in 100 people will even give a crap about your ad, and maybe 1 in 1000 will buy your product. Nowadays, with Social Media, advertising has the precision of a laser scalpel. If you have the cash, you can grab that scalpel and write advanced calligraphy with it. Allow me to explain.
Full disclosure, this is an online business, and I am interested in customer data. I am also nowhere NEAR big enough to pay to acquire that data, and I want to be transparent with my customers about how ad targeting works. When I was learning the process of how to make a Facebook Ad, it boggled my mind how precisely I could target my audience. I could target folks who loved a specific breed of chinchilla, or folks who were into Tibetan interpretive dance. I could send my ads DIRECTLY to everyone who was 27 years old, lived in Saskatchewan, was currently enrolled in Tuba lessons, and had a pet goat. AND I could send those ads to everyone who was in their goat support group as well. How’s that for precision? If I sold sheet music of Canadian Tuba melodies that soothed hooved animals, guess who I would send those ads to?
So how in the hell does Social Media know all this about you?
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve had my Facebook account for about 10 years now. So….over the course of 10 years, the giant omniscient artificial intelligence that is Skynet….er Facebook I mean, has been harvesting everything I do. Every click….every share….every comment. You think an elephant never forgets? Facebook makes Dumbo look like Mr. Magoo. Every time I have read a blog, called someone a moron, commented on a cute picture, or shared a clever meme, the Facebook Overmind has taken note, and stuck it into a big data grinder. After 10 years, it knows EXACTLY what I want to see…..and it serves my content up accordingly.
And you want to know the best part?? All this stuff can be harvested without giving Facebook ANY special permission. You remember that app that told you what Superhero you were? Or that Game of Thrones quiz where you scored 10/10 and were SO excited to share your results? Remember when you gave it permission to do God knows what? Yeah….you just put a brick of C4 in front of the castle gates and pressed detonate with the barbarians camped outside. That app now had your permission to collect absolutely EVERYTHING on your page. Everything you did, and everything your friends did. It harvested YOUR page….and it harvested THEIR page. This is EXACTLY what Facebook got busted for a few weeks ago. They were only supposed to release THAT data to people engaged in social research. Which is pretty much like saying a meth addict is only supposed to HOLD your prescription pain killers.
As you might imagine, this is a beautiful positive feedback system. The more it shows me stuff I want to see, the more I will “Engage” with it. Engagement is the holy grail of Facebook, and it is what the entire platform is about.
The Overmind doesn’t care WHAT you engage with, or HOW you engage with it. Anti Vax? No problem. Nazism? Pfft….Child’s play! Climate Change? Climate Hoax? Evolution? Creationism? Communism? Capitalism? All fodder for the machine.
And thus, we come to the crux of the matter.
Fake News BEGS engagement. If you are predisposed to agree with it, you will share it. If you are enraged that people could be so stupid to believe it, you will say so in the comments. It has NOTHING to do with political affiliation, or scientific accuracy, or even common sense. It has to do with ONE thing.
Getting your eyeballs on that screen.
If the Overmind records an engagement, it KNOWS your eyeballs were on it….and stopped….and LOOKED. You just told it what will grab your attention, and where it needs to stick the ads it is selling. This why fake news is EVERYWHERE on social media. Fake News of any political stripe is candy for advertisers. While you are typing out that scathing response to the flat earther, their ad is lingering in the corners of your feed. Every second you spend on that beautiful witty response and every carefully curated peer reviewed link you post, is one more chance you just MIGHT click on that Ad and buy their widget. And after years of carefully monitoring what you like and don’t like, they know EXACTLY what ads to put there. By ENAGAGING with Fake News, you are in fact feeding the Beast…..and pretty much guaranteeing you are going to see more of it. If someone shares stuff about FEMA Concentration camps, they are probably seeing ads for Emergency Rations and Ammunition. If you comment to the person sharing it what a moron they are, they will probably come back and tell you to “Get Woke, Sheep”, which means THEIR eyeballs are on the screen MORE. And maybe they will notice that Prepper ad the second time around….and buy it. Cha-Ching! You just helped the Overmind make a sale. Your participation is noted.
So how do we beat it?
We do it the same way an ant colony avoids poison. I know that’s not flattering….but you must remember, this is how the Overmind sees us, so we must beat it at its own game. If you put a sugar cube on the ground about a yard away from an anthill, you’ll start to see a straight line of ants going to that cube, harvesting a grain, and taking it back to the nest. If you put a drop of poison on that same sugar cube, they will still harvest it, but the colony will start filling up with dead ants. Now you might say, “I’m going to be the ant that holds up a DANGER Sign to warn my fellows!” But…..ants can’t talk to each other….they can only FOLLOW each other. And the Overmind sees us as ANTS. So, what do you do to warn your fellows away from that poison cube? You turn around, and march solidly in the OTHER direction. You IGNORE the poison sugar…..because the ant behind doesn’t even KNOW the poison sugar is ahead…it can only see your ant butt. If enough ants start to walk AWAY from the poison, without uttering a single ant word, eventually the line will be broken, the poison sugar will be forgotten, and it will dissolve away with the next rainstorm. The bottom line is, engage with the stuff you REALLY enjoy. If you like Dogs, engage with stuff about dogs. If you like hunting and fishing, engage with THAT stuff. If you like Tubas and Goats and Chinchillas and Tibetan Interpretive Dance, go nuts. If you like politics and religion, engage it all day……but tread with care…..the collective intelligence of America will thank you for it.
One last note. The point of this post is not to shy you away from debate on Facebook. This isn’t meant to target Democrats or Republicans. This isn’t meant to target the Religious or the Atheists….or hunters, or vegans. I’m not trying to silence the ammosexuals and glorify the snowflakes. This is meant to target the extreme fringe elements of ALL groups who are willing to spread utter falsehoods to try and gain some credibility for their “side” and are taking the rest of us along for the ride. There is a MYRIAD of valid topics that SHOULD be openly discussed and debated on social media, and the world is a better place because of it. Genuine policy discussion, fundamentalist indoctrination, scientific education, and government overreach, just to name a few are topics that have blossomed with the advent of this amazing tool we can use to reach outside of our bubbles. Keep that up….don’t stop….shine those lights of discovery into every corner of the world.
But the next time you come across a flat earther post, or that vaccines cause autism, or that a shadow government is running a child sex ring in a pizza shop basement, or that Monsanto is LITERALLY injecting cyanide into their brussel sprouts…….
Remember the ants.