In 2016, 10 million American citizens saw Russian-linked ads on Facebook. A believed Russian organisation bought over three thousand ads on the social media platform last year that purposely focused on divisive issues and aimed to spread misinformation to encourage the Republican vote in the United States. The ads suggested Muslim support for Hillary Clinton, and displayed anti-gay and pro-gun sentiments. Facebook only made this discovery a month ago.
Since then, Facebook announced that they are hiring one thousand people to review their ads and monitor targeting. The company employed just over 17,000 people at the end of 2016. In May 2017, it announced they would be hiring three thousand additional people to speed up the removal of videos showing suicide, murder and other acts of violence. Now after adding the extra thousand for reviewing targeted advertising, Facebook’s number of employees has grown by almost 25% in under a year.
But do extra employees equal better security?
Facebook has more than five million paying advertisers, and signing up to use their advertising spaces is incredibly easy. Even if every person employed by the social media giant were assigned to filtering out content that is in violation of their policies, it is virtually impossible that every piece of advertising could be eliminated from the site, especially when considering how many pieces of content just one advertiser can upload. With more than 2 billion users worldwide (a cool 28% of the world population) who encounter hundreds of ads per day, filtering out ads before they reach audiences would only seem likely if there were some kind of sophisticated computer program to combat them. Human filtering is not only ineffective; it also seems old-fashioned.
It seems Facebook’s extra employees don’t equal better security, and instead reflect the growth of fake news and how impactful it can be.
We have entered into unchartered territory. Marketing has reached a point, thanks to the Internet, where it has the ability to alter public opinion so drastically that elections are influenced.
Sure, the Nazis had their propaganda. The argument could even be made that if the Internet was around in the 1930s and 40s, the Third Reich never would have been able to rise to power so quickly and unilaterally. But perhaps marketing is our modern day propaganda.
Misinformation was quickly spread through Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube in regards to the recent Las Vegas mass shooting. A Facebook post that incorrectly identified the shooter as a Democrat who hated Donald Trump spread over the social media platform rapidly after the event hit the news. The great number of likes and shares the post received in a short amount of time boosted its position in the platform’s algorithm which in turn helped it reach a wider audience. Many Twitter users posted pictures of supposed loved ones, telling their followers that their family members were at the Las Vegas concert and were missing. The pictures used were later found out to be of porn stars or taken from unrelated news outlets. These discoveries were made only after the posters had received thousands of likes and shares, therefore achieving their goal of boosting their own profiles.
When what we read in the news can no longer be trusted, and our leaders in the West have the lowest worldwide approval scores in over 70 years, the future seems out of the hands of even our largest companies like Facebook.
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said that he doesn’t want anybody using the social media platform’s tools to undermine the US democracy. At this rate, it doesn’t seem like he has a choice.
How do you think digital media will change our future? Have a listen to my podcast on this topic here.
Featured image: Source.