The Power Of The Social Media – Truth or Myth?

The ongoing investigation against the Cambridge Analytica company is a good starting point for a question: how much political influence, if any, could be created in the social media? I’m more than a bit skeptic about it, but such a question cannot be ignored.

We already know that every social media user is somewhat profiled by the big players and it’s a safe bet to say that such data are evaluated (almost in real time)and used for a number of commercial reasons, from advertising to research.

We also know that advertising adapts itself according to the changes we made in our daily use of the social media platforms. The mechanism set up by the big players is quite efficient and the constant push to buy or to acquire services is self-evident for everybody with half a brain.

The results of this kind of aggressive data-related marketing are undisclosed, the feeling I get is that it works only for the part of the audience that is already set up for purchase goods (or services) and it’s not working at the same level for the others. Companies like the aforementioned CA or any of the big players think otherwise, of course. This is a market worth billions, isn’t it? The key in this game is to influence the social media users in order to get the biggest share of the market. The next logical step is to use the same tools to influence another kind of market, namely the political choices.

L0028074 Caricature : A Cure for Influenza
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
“A Cure for Influenza”.
Published: 1891
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

I still find amusing the idea of “buying” a can of politics or to think about a candidate in the same way I’m used to thinking about testimonials. This is what is going on, almost worldwide. Advertising companies and the social media industry are working together to sell us ideas and candidates in the same way TV companies were used to do not so many years ago.

From the cynical point of view, using big data is far better than polls and listening groups. If you get 50 million user profiles over a base of 350 million citizens (this figure is for the USA), your accuracy level should be astonishing. The initial question is still on the table: political advertising/marketing is enough to change the results of a general election?

On a bigger scale, how much influence modern instruments like memes, viral videos or guerrilla marketing can carry in a heated political confrontation? And again, how many people really trust what they are getting from the social media?

How can you discern from the noise in the background any tidbit of affordable information? For one, I moved away from the social media scene a couple of weeks ago. I quit my account on Twitter, scratched half a dozen other memberships and stop posting on Facebook (with the notable exception of the automated diffusion of blog posts). I did for a number of reasons, starting with the idea of cutting down the mass of idiocy that you get everywhere in the social media.

You see, I can feel the pressure. I also can feel remarkably well the anger and the frustration of so many people about being pushed and pulled in too many directions at once. It’s like a magician’s trick: when you see the strings, the illusion vanish in a moment. Without the illusion, rage comes out like water in a flood. It will take a lot of influence, marketing, and advertising to get over this mess.

2 thoughts on “The Power Of The Social Media – Truth or Myth?

  1. All this situation seemed to me to be at least a bit an artificial scandal.

    OK, granted, personal data was treated way too lightly, by these corporations and agencies, but mainly by the end users on the very first place. There is really a concrete need to allow every single app to access your data just to play some silly personality test?
    On real life, if someone would knock at the door and propose to let one play an idiotic game like those, in exchange of being allowed inside and being able to look around everywhere in the house, nobody would allow this. But on social media, everyone is eager to do this, not realizing that this is real life with real consequences too.

    And about the real scope and effect of the collected data, it must be said that even basic analytics with aggregated data allow to create “buying personas” to better target ads, and again, the problem lies in the final user: saying that social media manipulate elections is only telling part of the story; those who have an interest to spread lies and try to enrage the electorate into believing everything also did this even before social media even existed, they used other means and instruments. The real problem is people voting A instead of B because they only gather information from polarized social media sources, in the end social media are just tools, if they are used in the wrong way, who holds the responsibility?

    • My dear, welcome back! IMHO, there are two main issues and both are based on ignorance. Any social media user should be aware of what could happen to his/her data at the very moment he/she signs the initial agreement proposed by the platform owner. Nobody reads that stuff, we are in the realm of TL:DR. The latter issue is about the use of any information, no matter its source. Almost nobody digs a little to get more than a point of view, ever fewer spare five minutes to think about it. It’s all about here-and-now and politics is the same box of the last movie or the next pair of boots.

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