Right, and then this happened.
Since the 2016 election there’s been a ton of reportage on Facebook’s role in political advertising.
Most of the time, when taken to task for spreading hateful, distorted, and demonstrably false information, Facebook executives claim that the social network is merely a neutral platform, unmoored from the content it carries. Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice-president of global affairs and communications, likens Facebook to a tennis court. “Our job is to make sure the court is ready—the surface is flat, the lines painted, the net at the correct height,” he said last month during a speech in Washington. “But we don’t pick up the racket and start playing. How the players play the game is up to them.” It’s a convenient, yet inaccurate, analogy. Facebook runs on proprietary algorithms that promote some content over others; those algorithms are not neutral. Neither are the company’s idiosyncratic and inconsistent “content moderation” policies, which are supposed to police behavior on the site.The New Yorker, Sue Halpern, October 24, 2019
What’s the purpose of those “proprietary algorithms”? Pretty simple — to make money. To maximize user engagement, time on site, repeat visits, and other metrics that lead to a larger advertising inventory. Facebook’s business is to get eyes on ads.
If an advertising platform as huge as Facebook doesn’t have clear, consistent guidelines there’s going to be trouble. And when that advertising platform has as much influence as Facebook, that trouble gets escalated to Congressional level. (So much less stress to just sit back and eat popcorn and watch the drama play out.)
Aside: I once got a clearly guideline-breaking ad running on Facebook just by tweaking it — like, adding and deleting spaces — over and over. Seems like different editors are reviewing ads in near-real time, and I guess someone was distracted or having a bad day or whatever. I wouldn’t necessarily advise this strategy but it sure made a lot of money when it worked.
Times like this I reflect on how much happier other people on social media seem to be. Remember, though:
Without social comparison, social media have the potential to make us happier.Reexamining the relationship between social media and happiness: The effects of various social media platforms on reconceptualized happiness, Jiyoung Chae
I mostly abstain from social media these days. To paraphrase Merlin Mann, sometimes my silence is the greatest gift I have to offer.
I still recommend advertising on social media for most clients. What I don’t recommend is looking up ex-whatevers and college pals and playing the who’s-richer-and-happier game.
Nobody — except Facebook — wins.