Advertisement on Facebook Essay Example
As we enter the age of hyperconnectivity, it is becoming clear that each person’s amount of knowledge represents a smaller percentage of the total amount of knowledge than ever before. Intellectuals from around the world have been acutely aware of this and it has been the source of the lion’s share of recent political discourse worldwide. Facebook has been at the center of this, as it is an entirely advertisement-driven platform currently without regulations on the validity of its content. Whether or not Facebook bears responsibility for the problems surrounding the 2016 election is an issue still hotly debated. Some believe that Facebook should be held accountable for the obstruction of liberty caused by allowing advertisers to mislead its user base. Others believe that as a private entity, Facebook should be allowed to conduct business however it sees fit. These problems don’t have simple answers, but the debate over misinformation in the age of social media will be one of the historical hallmarks of our generation.
According to a joint study from Princeton University’s Department of Politics, it’s estimated more than over 25% (65 million) of Americans over age 18 visited a fake news website in support of either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton during the final weeks of the 2016 election season (Guess, Nyhan, & Reifler 2018), and the fake news that people read was heavily skewed towards Donald Trump. Furthermore, 60% of the total pages loaded on the fake news websites were opened by 10% of the population. This implies that people self-select the news they wish to hear by training Facebook to give them more biased articles. In an election that was decided by less than two-hundred thousand votes in three states, fake news played a significant role in the election.
The most problematic aspect of the weaponization of Facebook advertisements is the pinpoint precision with which advertisers can target users. This technique, called microtargeting, has raised concern from lawmakers around the world who are now demanding answers (Singer 2018). Civil rights leaders have also called for reform, arguing that Facebook’s inaction is fueling the voter manipulation running rampant sewing inequality. Moreover, while Facebook has created a political ad archive to help keep track of all political ads on the platform, it doesn’t record how each ad targets its audience. To remedy this, lawmakers have introduced the “Honest Ads Act”. This act would force online services to share each audience being targeted by a political ad. While this is a step in the right direction, it’s still in committee.
Recently, Congress called Mark Zuckerberg before the joint Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committee to answer questions related to Facebook’s involvement and influence with respect to the 2016 presidential election. While this sounds promising, during the hearing the members of Congress leading the committee were clueless about the topics on which they were speaking (Sullivan 2018). This painful display of ignorance on behalf of the lawmakers left political commentator Dan Pfeiffer to the conclusion "It would be cool to see Zuckerberg questioned by people who know how Facebook works." The whole process ended with most of the dialogue being Mark Zuckerberg simply explaining the basic functions of the service to the oblivious Commerce Committee.
Senator Lindsey Graham took a stab at the problem during his time to question Zuckerberg, asking “Do you embrace regulation.” Zuckerberg’s response is telling, he goes on to say that the real question is “what’s the right regulation.” This was a masterful response on two fronts. First, it provides cover for further questioning by providing a somewhat ambiguous answer. Second, it’s a very complex counter-question. What he’s really asking is “what would Congress regulate Facebook as.” While Facebook may have been founded as a technology/social media company, it may be more precise to call it a financial institution or an advertisement conglomerate. Facebook’s ad revenue alone produced 40 billion dollars in 2017 (Statista 2018), which is more than CBS and Time Warner combined.
On Monday, Facebook announced it would ban misinformation during the November midterm elections in America (Menn 2018). The stringency of the filtration was demonstrated by a few examples, such as false reports of long lines at polling stations, political violence, and voting requirements. These types of unpredictable and hard-to-verify situations scare voters from the polls, and if the fake advertisements are only shown to members of one political side, it will diminish that party’s turnout. Facebook will not be monitoring posts made by what they believe to be authentic people, notwithstanding the validity of their sentiments.
On the other hand, the problem with any regulation is that it’s an inherently political act (Graham 2018). Facebook’s biggest challenge is to convince its users to trust that they will be responsible with the data its users are giving it. The line between free speech on social media, or that of print media would become thinner with each passing regulation. The most costly price of regulation is that it comes at the hands of career politicians, each with their own career goals and agendas. Social media and other technology are actively banned in countries like China because they encourage free speech and free thought, which is a threat to the ruling power.
A way we could look at a non-partisan regulation of online advertisement (or maybe advertisement in general) would be to have the regulating body be in the private sector. This is how the government has solved other issues in the past, such as having the Federal Reserve System ran privately. Running the Fed privately allows for the objective completion of its duties assigned by Congress. This could work for advertisement regulation, provided that the chartering act in Congress provides clear and stringent directions and expectations.
Information is moving faster and faster every day. Even without touching on the influence of factors we don’t have enough information to analyze, such as artificially intelligent targeting algorithms and yet-unknown tactics, it’s clear that there’s a severe problem the likes of which we haven’t seen. Radical ideation quickly led to the overt decimation of so many cultures throughout Europe and Asia in the 20th century, now the proliferation of unverified information will lead to the irreversible destruction of all cultures throughout the world.
The scary thing about this situation is that autocracy and communism had a clear enemy that was easily targetable, and even with that clear target we’re still dealing with the ramifications to this day. With fake news we no longer have a clear target, and there’s no longer a united front against it. To combat this, we need to agree as a human race that figuring out who’s at fault will not solve the problem, we just need to focus on fixing it. The implications of inaction aren’t clear, but if history truly repeats itself, our society is going to need to take action swiftly and unilaterally.
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