Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Face of America to Come? Facebook, AFP and the Koch Brothers

I recently found a magazine from 1955. It brought up the image of a world so peaceful in comparison to this one and I’m not talking about war and physical bloodshed. I’m talking about visual advertising. The ads in the magazine are so simple in delivery and the psychology behind them is psych kindergarten. In the 50’s understanding of psychology was pretty rudimentary. People were still having lobotomies and shock treatment for depression.

Between then and now understanding of psychology has gone way beyond psych kindergarten, and of course the advertising industry capitalized. Their understanding of psychology graduated into sociopathic. Baser instincts, fear, paranoia, vulnerability were all targeted. So were children. So were mothers. And fathers. And siblings. And grandparents. The poor, the wealthy, the in-between. Nobody escaped. If you had half a brain you knew how much your capacity to choose was affected. You had to work hard to maintain independence of mind. Some people never did and died victims of the advertising industry, none the wiser. May they rest in peace.

The sociopathic targetting still happens. It’s still impossible to live in a city, having access to TV and the internet, and be in touch with what’s going on around you, without being barraged with the clamoring of thousands wanting your attention and/or your money and having no compunction about how they get it. 

But get too much of anything that intrudes on peace of mind and we develop blocks. Anybody sensitive to sound who lives on a noisy city street will attest to that. You just don’t hear it after a while. Ironically, in a world where the advertising industry still punts ‘new and improved’ as the biggest marketing advantage, it’s lost its own edge. There’s nothing new about the concept of new and improved, so advertising gets noisier and more invasive in a desperate attempt to fulfill its promise to individuals who pay for it, and exponentially less effective. Their victims are now their clients, who are the slow ones. They haven’t realized that the advertising industry’s greatest success now is conning them into believing advertising still works as well as it did back in the day when astute understanding of psychology was used so effectively as an exploitation tool.

Take Facebook. How many ads appear on your homepage? Ever clicked on one? Do you even notice them anymore? And most ironic of all, as Catherine Rampell pointed out in the Washington Post the algorithms that Facebook and Google et al use to measure what we’d be interested in are so rudimentary it’s laughable. These tech, megalomaniac giants, that’s all they can do with all their brilliance? I guess they haven’t found a way to measure when a person likes something out of sarcasm.

CNN anchor Ali Velshi once said what’s all the fuss about Facebook ads? We get Facebook for free, so to have a few ads on a page is a small price. Stop whining, he said, and block them out. And that’s the beauty about it all. When things get annoying we block them out.

Facebook’s success lies in its capacity to retain members, garner new ones and deliver advertising to clients. I wonder how truthful the stats are about that so-called capacity. I wonder how long it’s going to take before investors realize that.

But that’s all about what we can see. What about the stuff we can’t see? We place a lot of trust on privacy policies that assure us our data is only used to deliver ads to us of products we’re likely to want. But this is a global monopoly. Zuckerberg didn’t have the greatest ethics when he was a student, so the idea that he’d have developed integrity as he’s amassed massive power is beyond a joke. 

FaceBook is a megalomaniac giant that has exploited our most vulnerable aspect - the need to be connected – and very cleverly. We may not respond to ads as much as FB likes to tell its investors, but we do now all kind of feel that unless we expose ourselves to the nth degree to as many people as possible we're isolated. And if we’ve got friends, we can’t control our privacy because every time they sign up through Facebook onto a new site to comment or just belong they give away their friends’ data. And their friends don’t get asked. Courtesy FaceBook’s privacy policy.

The problem isn’t what we can see; it’s what’s hidden and how much escapes us because we still inherently trust and because we want to be connected. And now FaceBook has turned conservative. Ostensibly because Zuckerberg is angry at President Obama for NSA invasive activities. If ever there was a pot calling the kettle black it’s Zuckerberg in this.

Facebook recently sponsored CPAC, which represents and backs the most conservative political element in the US. Along with the billionaire Koch brothers, who’s mouthpiece is Americans For Prosperity (AFP). According to Mother Jones they sank $411 million dollars into trying to block Obama from being re-elected in 2011. AFP is working hard to ‘persuade’ Americans that anything Obama is ruinous for the US, particularly Obamacare. The ads they’ve put out have no truth, which makes a thinking person, well, think. Unfortunately they’re not targeting us. They’re targeting the unthinking, the paranoid, the fearful, the prejudiced. 

And their message succeeds. Imagine how much better AFP and the Koch brothers can do if they join hands with Mark Zuckerberg. All that data. And people worry about the NSA?