It's Facebook Wot Won It

By Dan Brain, Content & Marketing Director, MAD//Fest12 May, 2018

Around about this time of year, not long after world didn't end because of the Millennium Bug, I was cramming for my A-Level politics exam in between nursing hangovers gained in Swansea's worst nightclubs.

I remember rehearsing essay questions, including one on the infamous tabloid headline, “It’s The Sun Wot Won It”. The debate was over whether kingpin media owner Rupert Murdoch exerted too much influence over British politics. With the control of a newspaper empire, Murdoch was able to tip the result of a close elections in his favour, so said the argument.

Fast forward to the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018 and it appears the dark art of manipulating the public for political gain is very much alive and kicking. What has changed are the tools - they've been turbo charged.

The ability to coax the public into handing over their data and fuel micro-targeting has replaced the red top tabloid as the weapon of choice in political marketing.

Whilst this latest scandal has brought with it important and justified ethical, legal and regulatory discussion, consumers need to wake up to how personal data is used to fund our social media existence.

Facebook is not a public service. Nor is it an altruistic gift for humanity bequeathed by Mr Zuckerberg, it's raison d'être to boost our egos and make the commute to work less miserable by providing ‘harmless’, self-affirming games.

Facebook is a money making machine ($70 billion revenue in 2017) fed by powerful data-driven advertising. It’s an attractive platform for the tech savvy and rich enough to exploit.

History has taught us that people who want to influence the political agenda will use whatever methods are at their disposal to get the best possible result. Many are willing to push the limits of legality and ethics.

90% consumers don't want to pay for digital content, so says the much touted iab stat. Whether what has happened at Facebook and Cambridge Analytica is unethical, illegal or both, there will always be people looking to mine data and develop unsavoury tactics for political or economic gain. Sad but true.

Am I pissed off about Trump and Brexit? Absolutely.

Am I surprised that we have been exploited in this way? Not at all.

Just like the last US general election and the EU referendum, the 1992 UK General Election was won on a paper-thin margin, a punchy headline on the front of a Murdoch-owned tabloid possibly tipping the balance.

Advertisers, tech firms and publishers all have a responsibility to operate on the right side of the law. When they cross the line or push the limits of acceptable practice, it's only right that their actions be called out.

But when we’ve all calmed down, let's think about whether we are comfortable with an internet funded in this way. After all, it’s just a year since marketing execs were scrambling around pulling their ads from YouTube after the extremist content controversy.

What data are you willing to concede and is it a fair exchange of value?

How did those hyper-personalised ads come into existence?

Are we burying our heads in the sand if we think dark forces won’t try to misappropriate our data?

As my wise old man says, there really is no such thing as a free lunch.

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