Adtech & Social Networks In Politics

Call for social media adtech to be probed by UK competition watchdog (techcrunch.com)

There’s an old saying…”Ignorance is bliss”! I’ve always wondered about the validity of that statement. It’s been my experience that ignorance is anything but bliss. It inevitably leads to confusion, anxiety, stress and, if nothing else, MORE ignorance.  Over the last 10 years the role that social networking and programmatic advertising (adtech) has played an increasing role in the election process nationally and internationally. That role is more or less the same as the role radio and television played in electing political candidates in the 20th century; it’s a means of reaching mass audiences with a message or messages from a specific candidate or candidates. Elections are obviously based on numbers so the higher the numbers the further the message goes among the “voters”, whoever, wherever, they may be. Mass media in general is about information, and ideally the more information people have to make choices, whether for which soap to buy or which president to elect, the better choices they make. I said ideally. In reality, in my opinion, life works entirely the opposite way. The less information people have the easier it is for them  make decisions. 

In the book,  Paradox of Choice,  Barry Schwartz argues that eliminating consumer choices can greatly reduce anxiety for shoppers. Autonomy is critical to our well being, and choice is critical to freedom and autonomy. But thats for buying dish soap and cars. But what about people? Obviously when it comes to elections people still want simple clear cut choices, particularly in the U.S. We feel comfortable with two party systems because they give us a simple clear cut choice…candidate A or candidate B, Whig or Tory, Republican or Democrat?  Political jargon has always paid lip service to “issues” and policy, but most people usually pay little attention to these things. Issues come and o go , some are complex and some are simple. But in general people are swayed simply by what they see and hear. FDR captivated a nation through radio The handsome, charismatic John Kennedy edged out the more experienced but shady looking Dick Nixon in the most famous election of the 20 century. 

But the 21st century  is a different animal altogether. With the advent of social media we no longer make our decisions based on what we hear or what we see, but on what we THINK!. Educated or ignorant, rich or poor, liberal or conservative, old or young, we all have a “profile”. Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, whatever, all have a basic footprint of what we like and what we don’t like, what we do and what we don’t do. Tik Tok and Youtube know more about your viewing habits than you do. Why? Because YOU tell them, the active and willing participant in these “social” networks. They are fun. They are interesting. They are entertaining. 

But are they nefarious, manipulative, and mind-controlling? Of course not! Hitler mesmerized an entire nation into mass murder and world war but I don’t see anybody blaming the radio! Hitler succeeded because he was Hitler and the German masses were mesmerized because, for whatever reason, they agreed with what he was saying. Television is loaded with negative images, false statements and pure propaganda, just watch Fox News for a day, but I don’t see anyone rushing to “regulate” it. 

It’s the old “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. I’m not a gun nut and by no means not pro-NRA, but I do know that if all guns magically disappeared from the face of the earth people would STILL find ways to kill each other. They always have and always will. But how do “regulate” people? The simple answer is you CAN’T. There will always be unscrupulous people willing to use any tool necessary to achieve their own goals at the expense of others. In other words, just because Cain slew Abel, do we regulate stones?

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