The Cambridge Analytica story continues to unfold. Now, Facebook is taking a stand that could actually stop the flow of data to nefarious actors. For those of you not clicking that link, FB is largely closing the API. Somehow, I managed to write about this (the API access horizion) somewhat extensively in my book, Selling Social Media (Bloomsbury Academic 2018). Check it out from your local library.
What does that mean?
In a prior post, I complained that the issue was that legitimate social research was too difficult for users who followed the rules. It has become clear that despite removing surface level tools did not stop nefarious actors from extractive massive banks of data from Facebook. Like many researchers, I turned to more open platforms like Twitter and Pinterest. Now, FB will be blocking most app access and informing users about what kind of information has been provided to apps. In terms of everyday privacy, this will bring the platform into alignment with what users were already expecting. Zuckerberg will be making Facebook considerably more private.
On the other hand: Concentration of Power
The idea of building a business that deeply interacts with Facebook has always been tenuous. At any point FB could simply throttle the traffic and end your company, either as a whim or to promote their own alternative to your business. Access to the network is the key. The new bona fide users will likely be very closely attached to Facebook’s interest, which may not be closely related to your interest. A few practical ways to challenge this: use a variety of communication platforms provided by a number of companys. Make actual telephone calls using your minutes. Also, support robust actions by the Justice Department to enforce anti-trust laws on a basis beyond consumer price.
If you think this means more friendly neighborhood social researchers like yours truly will have more access, you are mistaken.
Why do advertisers continue to use Facebook?
In terms of immedate effect, a handful of advertisers have abaondned Facebook buys as a result of the recent news. For Ad Age (which for the record is one of my favorites) this is enough to declare that the problems have been managed. These same optimistic accounts are willing to dismiss the reality that FB is losing users. Potentially millions of interaction hours have been lost. Ad buying on a platform level has a lot of inertia. It won’t shift overnight.
Affective modulation. Advertisers chase the opportunity to bring the right ad to the right person at the right time. This is very difficult to put into practice. It is conceivable that we could arrive at infinite segmentation at some point in the near future. Infinite segmentation, when connected to a rapid synthetic technology, could be the future. Until then, we make do with a number of theoretical abstractions that
Deep well of research on the concepts of flow and fit. Flow was developed by Raymond Williams. Fit in the rhetorical situation by Lloyd Bitzer.
Flow implies that the critical characteristic of television is the flow of programming. Instead of viewers watching individual programs, they tend to watch continuous streams of programming. You can see this in the radio function of Spotify, Pandora’s entire product, and the next program features of Netflix, in addition to the example of television itself. There are a number of effects models that can explain aspects of flow, but we don’t need to belabor the point. Things that happen in a sequence together are associated with each other.
Fit deals with the reality that the speaker doesn’t control that much of the rhetorical situation. A President may have a good speech for opening a war, but it makes no sense to deliver that speech when throwing out the opening pitch of a baseball game. This is not a hard limit: a speaker, like a President, might deliver enough speeches appropraite for the start of a War that they might cause it. Advertisers are conservative. They won’t invest millions of dollars changing social protocols so that they might run
Demonetization Explains Advertiser Behavior
Fall 2017, saw many smaller YouTubers demonetized. Up until that point, whatever clicked, banked. There were many cases when the flow of videos made little sense, and the placement of advertisements would be offensive to advertisers. Google responded by demonetizing users and now simply not paying many users. At the end of the day, advertising is about fit and flow — this is why the money is there in the first place. There is no intrinsic reason why the internet makes all attention into cold hard cash.
Logan Paul was merely too big to demonetize. The entire world of YouTubers is populated with the equavalent of morning radio show acts. It isn’t that people aren’t in their cars moving about in the AM, but that these are limited opportunities. Facebook too is a unique site: it has the users, ostensibly captive, and because of the collapse of trust in these systems, it is nearly impossible for a rival to appear. Advertisers judge their spend versus alternatives in their possible marketing mix: do I want to spend on random shock-jock vids or but some controlled FB ads? Worse, the world of open ad exchanges is riddled with fraud and arbitrage. FB continues because it is better than simply throwing money in a sewer. This is not a glowing endorsement of Facebook.
This is why Twitter and Snapchat Continue
I have returned to actively using Twitter (@danfaltesek) and my use of Reddit is also quite frequent. Twitter has an open API and a robust research base. Twitter has problems, but there is little ambiguity about what Twitter is and how it operates. Snapchat has clear rules and has been slow in opening the platform for third-parties.
Facebook in some ways took the worst possible approach. Instead of controlling the quality of the platform interaction, they opted for the wild west of Twitter, but with none of the openness. Had Facebook been more like Snappy, the news would be different.
A Broader Theme: Hubris
Some of my future research will involve the rhetoric of cyberwar — one theme is that American firms vastly over-estimate their technological prowess, and under-estimate their adversaries. Your rhetorical watch word here is “generation.” More on that later…