Over the past few years, targeted advertising through social media has gotten noticeably more personal. Facebook seems to know that we need new socks, or that we’re craving Thai food, or that we woke up yesterday with a headache and thought we had cancer(thanks, WebMD). These ads may feel eerie or even invasive sometimes, but they also demonstrate the power of sophisticated targeting algorithms and paid advertising on social media. Nowhere is this more relevant—and at times problematic—than in the political sphere.
A One-Sided Conversation
With today’s finely tuned targeting of sponsored social media ads, political parties are able to reach the people who are most susceptible to their messages. But what happens when we fill our feed with posts from like-minded friends, and social targeting algorithms are so finely tuned that we only see ads aimed towards people who think like us? We’re facing a society with the potential to be more close-minded than ever before, on both sides of the conversation.
Of course, no discussion of politics and social platforms is complete without bringing the media into the picture. It’s no secret that certain websites and publications harbour political agendas, but it’s the sly ways they attempt to mask their biases that make them especially dangerous. All too often, people look to articles posted by partisan media outlets for impartial reporting. Readers share these articles, perhaps not even realising their biased nature, and perpetuate a one-sided discourse.
When Politics Go Viral
This election in particular has demonstrated the massive power social media can have on public perception. Platforms like Facebook allow information to spread quickly, whether that information is true or not. The Conservatives’ recent anti-Labour video asserting that Corbyn condones terrorism—dubbed ‘fake news’ by Labour—received millions of views, even as both parties took a break from campaigning in light of the London attack on Saturday night. During this incredibly sensitive time for Britain, the viral video brought on a deluge of possibly unjustified uncertainty regarding the Labour platform.
Furthermore, the video’s spread revealed just how out of control political advertising through social media has gotten. With huge numbers of people viewing these ads, regulation has become near impossible, and the playing ground for the different political parties seems more uneven than usual.
The accuracy of ad targeting and the rapid spread of these political posts goes to show how powerful social media can be from a marketing perspective. On a fundamental level, Britain’s political parties are wise to take advantage of this formidable tool. Just a few words, a picture or a video can have a lasting and measurable impact on the world outside the Internet. However, within the field of politics, we must question how social media gives us only one side of the story, and how we can combat this limited perspective.
Before you cast your ballot on 8th June, spend a bit of time looking outside of your Facebook-induced political bubble: check out a variety of news outlets, pay attention to which posts in your feed are sponsored and above all, arm yourself with knowledge instead of getting caught up in the viral fervour created by social media.
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