We have one company(Facebook) that has the ability to reshape the way we think. I don’t think I need to describe how dangerous that is!- Edward Snowden
The virtual world of social media has brought people closest than ever. Unlike erstwhile when the exchange of messages was limited, costly and time-consuming, in the world of social media it is explicit and fastest as it can be. And from the word social media, we mostly mean FACEBOOK. Facebook is now synonymous with social media. Among all social networks, Facebook has the highest number of active users. By the end of the third quarter of 2016, Facebook had 1.79 billion monthly active users.
According to a statistics website, average time spends by a user on Facebook is 50 minutes. In a day, average human sleeps for 8 hours and from remaining 16 hours, the average time of 50 minutes is spent on Facebook. This means approximate 1/16th part of the day is spent surfing Facebook. Higher the engagement, higher would be the advertisement effectiveness. The revenue of Facebook increased in last quarter by 52% increase or $5.4 billion.
Higher engagements increase the ad impressions. Facebook which is presently an unstoppable force, dominates a quarter of all web traffic. It sucks up the huge portion of the ad revenue, money that keeps news organizations running and holds an enormous captive audience. Facebook in a report stated that its ad impressions increased by 50% this quarter and its average price per ad has increased by 5%.
Game of Numbers
But how do these ad impressions increase? What is the marketing technique over which the business of Facebook prospers? It is all the game of numbers on Facebook. A number of likes, comments, shares, views, clicks, etc. Higher the number of likes, comments, shares et al higher is the engagement. Everything is caught and works in the web of numbers. On the basis of these numbers, advertisers pay to advertise their commodity on Facebook.
But how authentic are these numbers? On the Facebook page of Ballotboxindia, our campaigns find likes and shares from those who don’t have anything to do our content. They don’t belong to our target audience. Ballotboxindia targets technocrats and people from the world of science and technology but when we check likes, comments, and shares we mainly find that a huge number of like and responses from anonymous names. One example is below post which generated a lot of likes, but only a few actually opened the link to understand the concept, but none actually filled up the survey which was our goal.
Are we really targeting them or Facebook provides these fake numbers just to fortify the reach of posts? Is Facebook or people using malicious marketing techniques for marshaling fake accounts to project unreal numbers of responses to showcase the reach or follow of a post? Or is the algorithm targeting people who are serial likers, who will like anything thrown at them? All it looks like is the marketing platform is very fine tuned at generating superficial numbers of no real use but can keep a lot of naive users on the platform. All this is done to improve facebook's own key performance indicators.
It is true. The social media users understand little about the online marketing techniques and usually get caught in the game of fake/unreal numbers. We tend to follow pages or like posts that have maximum followers but we don’t know the authenticity of the other likers or followers. The page with greater followers and a greater number of likes get greater ad proposals for greater value. So amidst this fowl play the providers of likes and comments cash the benefits of the advertisements.
As the flow of information is not gate kept, anyone is free to post any information over Facebook. Very often fake news and information are posted over Facebook and people without much comprehension and verification tends to believe it as truth. Propagation of fake news/information is often done to check the depth and penetration of the content. Very often fake news/information attracts users and in turn results in a great response in the form of like, comment, shares. Great response benefits post makers on the basis on pay-per-click or pay-per-thousand basis.
But the biggest concern is that there is not much for the wrongdoer on Facebook. If there is an unfair content circulating over the internet all that would be done after reporting is it will be hidden from timelines. But there is no punishment for incorrect information, unlike mainstream media.
In today’s world, Social media like Facebook empowers us to easily broadcast or narrowcast at low cost. Everyone with the internet makes dissemination of information without gatekeeping difficult to monitor. If the power to transcend the messages and information can bring people together then in split seconds it can create uncertainties with a flow of false threats or mutilated information.
Another malicious practice of marketing on Facebook can be understood with a case study. A page on Facebook with the name Unofficial: Indian Army has 1,385,064 likes. On this page in the name of patriotism provocative content is disseminated and avid followers would indulge in fights or war of words. Followers lacking rationale would fight over trivial issues giving rise to the number of hits or impressions on the page, in turn, helping the beneficiaries.
Creating fuzz and feud over sensitive issues and misleading people to engage in banter is a new way of marketing. Troll creators intentionally create provocative content which may have religious content, or national content or any other. Over Few pages, feud is created over cricket or football favorite players and with their provocative content invite fans to fight on their pages. Or the best- fight over their political leaders.
Is everything on social media reliable?
A new generation has more admissibility with social media. That is the reason authentic media houses are also spreading their reach through social media. On Facebook, almost every news channel or media house has its page. Dissemination of the information is instant. But why do the authentic media channels prefer social media for information dissemination when this medium is vulnerable? News and information can easily be tweaked and is often not authentic.
Incorrect and free flowing information can be devastating. The capability of freely flowing information to influence the command and control of coordinated forces has long been understood by military commanders. The Greek historian Herodotus tells his stories of a deposed king passing obscured messages to organize a revolution, and another king sending a warning of impending attack; during World War I, soldiers would shoot at carrier pigeons bearing messages from front-line troops.
Today, when governments face political unrest, a very militarily inspired response is to limit, control, or deprive the free flow of information to the opposition. The recent case of US Presidential election clearly explains this. Circulation of fake news that Hillary Clinton sold weapons to ISIS trending right alongside one true story about Barbara Bush urging female voters not to vote for Trump. Conservative State published a story that falsely quoted Hillary Clinton as saying, “I would like to see people like Donald Trump run for office; they’re honest and can’t be bought.” The false story generated over 481,000 engagements on Facebook. A second false story from a Macedonia site falsely claimed that Clinton was about to be indicted. It received 149,000 engagements on Facebook.
Unmonitored flow and Over-reliance on Facebook
Biggest blow off of the ill practices of marketing over Facebook is that it is easily swaying people's mind. We know over the Facebook exchange of thoughts and messages happen in real time. But the express and unmonitored flow of information can cause what cannot be thought in nightmares. Speaking over this NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden expressed his concerns by saying-
“a very sad indictment of our democracy, that our voters could be so easily misled”. He further added to his concerns that our over reliance on Facebook is dangerous. He said” We have one company that has the ability to reshape the way we think. I don’t think I need to describe how dangerous that is”
The biggest problem is that people tend to believe fake and fabricated news and information over the genuine one. In the final three months of the US presidential campaign, the top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC News, and others. Similarly, In India trolling pages releasing news generally generate more engagements than major news outlets. To match the competition, few major news outlets use sensationalism and trivialize as the tool of propagation.
A study by Buzzfeed News revealed that hyper-partisan Facebook pages and their websites were publishing false or misleading content at an alarming rate — and generating significant Facebook engagement in the process. Facebook looked incompetent in barring fake information and news though they ensured that we are flagging the hoaxes and fakes.
The intensity of the problem, Snowden reminded us, isn’t just that Facebook has failed to cull fake posts from its stream; it’s that we as users have given Facebook too much power over what we read. He added -
“This gets into a bigger challenge which is the lack of competition, the fact that there seems to be no alternative to the largest services,” he said. “Once [companies] have gotten so big that no one can stop them…they get less careful.”