Essay: Why Zuckerberg and Facebook had No Choice: The Problem with Advertising
Our Implicit Agreement with Facebook Social Media
We have an implicit agreement with all vendors of the different forms of media to view the advertising that they host. At a surface level, it seems a pretty decent sort of agreement. In exchange for videos, free newspapers, endless gratis websites, or the low cost of a monthly subscription fee, etc. you have access to entertainment, news, and interacting with friends, family, and strangers. You believe that. I used to believe that. And millions the world over believe that.
Advertising works because it is based on a quirk of the human brain. Regardless of whether we want to disbelieve something or are hesitant to act on it, whenever we hear something repeatedly or view something repeatedly, it becomes ‘the truth’ to us.
The Human Brain
Everybody hates rote learning. It is boring and it takes time. Yet it has remained an effective method of learning throughout human history. Rote learning is how our brains learn. Whenever we see something happening repeatedly, we believe it to be a fact.
This evolution of the brain is common to all species. Without it, there would be no learning. If our ancestors hadn’t realized that the bite of the asp would kill, then they would probably have been wiped out. It was consistent experience, gained through observation, which allowed our ancestors to realize that some snakes were deadly while others were not.
The four seasons were learnt through the constant repetition of them. It was understood that clouds in the sky brought rain because the sun never shone when the rain came down.
In the brain of man, and in the brain of all species, repetition of the same thing is a reliable indicator of its truth.
Magazines, Newspapers, Websites, TV Series, etc.
Like many a publisher before him, Mark Zuckerberg had a problem. He had a product but he was doubtful that people would buy it in sufficient numbers to make it viable. Whether it is the Wall Street Journal, the latest episode of a smash TV hit, or an interactive social network, it needs to be paid for.
The only consistent solution for media companies has, to date, been advertising. According to legend, Zuckerberg was not keen on using promotional material to finance his site, but short of asking each subscriber to pay, there didn’t appear to be any other solution.
So that is the route that the Facebook CEO took.
The Advent of Advertising
Shortly after the Great Depression, Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud, realized that rote learning was the key to both political domination and business success. Television and radio, both recently past their infancy, were becoming the norm in every home, and they would be the means of implementing the methodology.
The word, itself, comes from the French avertissement, and it means to call attention to something.
Bernays took the sweat out of rote learning. He proposed that the message itself be broken into very small components and repeated endlessly. Examples are Deutschland uber alles and make America great again.
Consider the following:
- Snap! Crackle! Pop!
- What’s the worst that could happen?
- Because you’re worth it.
- A diamond is forever.
- Just do it!
- For everything else, there’s Mastercard.
These short, snappy phrases, through constant repetition, have become part of our lexicon, part of our daily meaning, and part of our lives.
Thus the power of constant repetition of small bites of information.
Do you buy brands?
Increasingly Targeted Advertisements
Americans are subjected to some 4000 of these promotional notices per day. For every 60 minutes, Fox blasts forth 16.52 minutes of brainwashing material or, put another way, Americans view about 20 advertisements per hour.
Of course, there comes a point where human beings adjust to the environment, and so there has been a growing immunity to the power of the blurb. Millennials, in particular, are difficult to target.
In addition, with the growing diversity and individuality of the human market place, it would be ridiculously expensive to target everybody in the hope of reaching a few.
Facebook presented a dynamic opportunity to advertisers to reach exactly the type of person who would be susceptible to their message. However, in order for the ad to be effective, private information had to be made available to advertisers. There is no other way for Facebook to offer a meaningful return to advertising revenue.
Advertising and the Weakminded
It was Obi-wan who famously said, “The force can have a strong effect on the weakminded.” So can advertising.
Cambridge Analytica went looking for a particular profile, and they found it. Facebook offered the largest base of detailed information about people in America (outside Google).
The methodology they used was no different to the methods used by television advertisers or radio advertisers.
The standard advertising method comprises the following steps:
- Build a profile of a likely buyer
- Establish which media host would be most likely to have access to those potential buyers.
- Design a campaign that would reach those targets in the intensity that would make sure that the message was acted upon.
A Conflict of Interest: Zuckerberg and Facebook vs Privacy of Information
Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook are at a crossroads.
The business model on which Facebook is built is effective, highly-targeted advertisements. Without being able to provide advertisers with enough of your personal information, Facebook cannot guarantee the efficacy of promotional material.
In other words, this social media website cannot keep your information private. It will always find its way to the commercial and political interests that wish to influence your decision making.
Would you pay an affordable, small annual fee for Facebook if there was no advertising?
All of us, without exception, begin to believe that which we hear and see repeatedly. If we are part of a religious institution, the message becomes our reality. When we expose ourselves to endless TV promotions, we eventually believe that Kentucky Fried Chicken is finger-licking good. When we are angry, and a message designed to play on that anger, becomes more and more frequent, we begin to believe the contents of that message. When our friends share a marketing message from a sponsor, we are trusting. We do not question
The Problem with Advertising
Is it permissible to kick a man when he is down?
To a large extent, that is what advertising is doing. Those who do not guard their minds from the bombardment of constantly repeated messages open themselves to accepting as truth the content of those messages.
It happens so surreptitiously that 99% of humanity is unaware that this is happening. This is why branding works. Once the media has associated a particular message with a particular brand, all that is required is for that brand to be mentioned, and the associated message is then triggered in our brains.
As with anything, this methodology can be used for good and evil. It is good to knowingly use rote learning to assimilate multiplication tables. It is not good for someone to repeat something endlessly without our consent in order to influence us.
The Public Good: Should Advertising Be Banned?
Advertising, in some respects, serves a useful purpose. It makes us aware of products that might be useful to us. Yet, we only receive a limited view of the products that would be helpful to us. Kickstarter and Amazon provide evidence of this. Most of the truly creative innovations out there are not known to us. There is simply not the budget for inventors to bring that information to us.
There is also a vast difference between informing us of a product (with an accurate specification attached) and using brainwashing techniques to influence us to buy into a particular product.
We do not tolerate kicking a man when he is down. Why do we tolerate the indoctrination of our minds by government and commerce?
Is it moral? Is influencing another for our personal profit an ethical behaviour?
The Zuckerberg Facebook Conundrum
Would you be willing to pay a few bucks each year in order to maintain your Facebook account? Would Zuckerberg be willing to remove the social network site from public ownership and make it a non-profit?
Facebook: The Profit Motive
There is the fallacy that innovation would come to an end if there was no opportunity to make a profit. This is simply not true. Innovation is not the product of greed. It is the outcome of solving a problem, whether the end result is pleasure or survival.
There is no reason why an increasing number of products which contribute to the public good should not be produced and made available on a not-profit basis. This does not mean that the innovators are not rewarded. It just means that they are rewarded in a more realistic manner without damaging the social contract.