Is Facebook to Blame for Donald Trump’s Presidency?

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.

 

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Posts made by an alleged Russian-linked Facebook page. Source.

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.

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Donald Trump, who is often credited with the infiltration and rise of fake news. Source.

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.

What Happened to Romance Novels?

The genre of romantic fiction has been around since ancient Greece, yet the works of Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters are often credited with its emergence as a popular form of writing. Long considered a genre that is only for women, romance is often critically ignored and ridiculed due to this fact. A study completed in 2010 even found that most people who buy romance novels are embarrassed about it.

Putting my feminist sensibilities aside to unpack this source of embarrassment, I think it is valuable to look at the elements the all-time great romance novels have in common and compare these to the books that have been on bestseller lists in recent years.

Goodreads have a list naming their top ten romance novels of all time, collated using Amazon’s bestseller list (from both a people’s and a critic’s view) and Goodreads own rating system. Take a look at the list below:

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Top 10 Romance Novels of All Time on Goodreads. Source.

Not a single novel listed in the top ten was written in the twenty-first century, with half being written prior to 1940. Throughout history, the number of books being printed has consistently risen over time.

 

With the arrival of the internet, as discussed in my previous post, people are writing more than ever before, thus creating more books. It stands to reason that if more books are being written today than ever before then there should be more variety in the books listed in the ‘greats’. So why aren’t there any Romance greats written in this century, at least according to the most popular book rating website?

There are plenty of objective and subjective ways to identify what makes a Romance good, or at the very least successful, but for the sake of being succinct, let’s look at key elements the novels in the top ten list have in common.

Looking to Pride and Prejudice as the number one placeholder, we would assume the great romances feature a headstrong heroine with good morals and no pension towards marrying for anything other than the deepest love. A case could be made for this concerning the characters of Jane Eyre and Claire Randall, though Scarlett O’Hara or Marianne Dashwood are less inclined towards fitting this description.

The nature of the romances within the works themselves seems like the obvious drawcard in those seeking out the genre. Elizabeth and Darcy, above all, have a mutual respect. It seems a stretch to compare any of the other couples in the top ten for having a similar kind of respect, but this element does seem present at least in the relationships of Allie and Noah and Claire and Sam.

 

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One of the earliest illustrations of Pride and Prejudice. Source.

 

And it’s not just the romance genre that have top books being written before the 21st century. Lists that feature the top crime novels of all time also show a trend in favouring books of centuries past, which would suggest that people either favour older stories or see them as more credible purely because of age. Yet, novels in the fantasy and historical genres show trends that accept newer novels into their all-time lists.

So has it got something to do with readership?

While Millennials are out-reading older generations, they also have access to more reading material than ever. This could explain the trend in upholding older books in genres that have countless modern additions. With more material to read, stories begin to bleed together through repetitious elements and older stories stand out in being either the trend-setter or because of their distinctive non-modern settings.

Or perhaps it has to do something with the embarrassment factor that is associated with romance fans. Romance fiction is well known as being the punching bag of the current literary world, but was it always this way?

Another possibility is the how technology functions as a narrative decide within novels. The way we communicate is drastically different now compared with even five years ago, let alone in the 204 years since Pride and Prejudice was published. In Austen’s world, characters had to write letters or travel hours by hansom cab in order to communicate. This functioned as an effective narrative device, creating drama through Elizabeth reading Darcy’s letter explaining himself months after she crudely rejected his proposal. It was then months later again when she was able to see him in person and begin to rectify her mistake.

If we take a look at the Top Ten Romances Novels of 2016 as voted in the Goodreads Choice Awards, eight out of the ten novels are written in a modern setting. All eight feature plot points that revolve around the character’s being able to communicate instantly.

Perhaps an argument could be made that modern technology has changed the way authors write contemporary novels, and this has an adverse effect on the development of plot and character relationships. The writing may not be to blame; our instantly gratified world is.

No matter what the reason is for the romance genre to be the literary world’s punching bag, it does not stand to reason that it is the romantic element itself. Many great novels deal with the concepts of love and romance, from Anna Karenina to Wuthering Heights to the more recent Atonement. Though in these, providing happiness to a couple is not the novel’s purpose.

Perhaps romance works best when it isn’t classified as romance at all.

What do you think? Does romance rely upon existing within more credible genres to be deemed worthy? Leave me a comment!

Featured image: Source.

 

 

 

 

 

Podcast: How Has Digital Media Affected Advertising?

Music used in podcast: Source. 

Podcast Transcript

Intro music plays

 Lucy: A date with digital podcast.

Intro music continues. Fades out as Alana begins.

Alana: My name is Alana Scarce and I work at GTB in Melbourne working on the Ford account and I am the Media Director.

Lucy: What made you initially decide to go into media?

Alana: So, I actually fell into it. Just applied for a heap of jobs in media, advertising just at a really entry level and nothing was getting away, like my CVs just weren’t getting anywhere. So I ended up falling into this role, it was a Media Coordinator role, the guy was so young and the business was so young, they didn’t even have a website so I went into this interview so blind and literally just fell into it.

Lucy: What do you think are the biggest differences between obviously doing your first job and now? Or even just in media in general?

Alana: Well, so many. Obviously, the audiences are so much more fragmented now than they were before. You know when I started ten years ago, we were doing so many press inserts. Probably 80% of our budgets were press inserts and TV, and you knew that you could reach literally 90% of our audience at that point eleven years ago but now the audiences are so fragmented. You get the opportunity to see so many messages every day – people on their mobiles, their smartphones, they’re constantly on the move, we’re busier and busier – so the digital landscape has totally changed the way we reach our audiences. The rotation of the ads now, you know every three, two and a half to three seconds they are putting a different brand on so your share of voice is so much lower than it was on a static billboard. So there’s positives and negatives, I think, the whole way through.

Lucy: Yeah.

Alana: Just got to find the right way to reach the audience.

Lucy: Yeah. How do you perceive the change to be different in consumers? Do you think that the way that it’s gone digital has affected the way that people interact with advertising?

Alana: Absolutely, and I think – that’s a great question – but I think people, their expectation now of, they want to know something they seek it from Google in five seconds. If a website on a mobile does not load within that first two seconds, they’re pretty much bounced off. So, the expectation of consumers these days and the younger generation is that everything is so fast and accessible. So, that expectation there is increasingly difficult to meet because how do you even keep up with that?

Lucy: Yeah. It’s like, you can’t make things instantly but you can find them out instantly so…

Alana: Exactly! When I started travelling, when I did two years overseas when I finished my marketing course, there wasn’t even USBs then. And it wasn’t even that long ago!

Lucy: Yeah, no, it wasn’t!

Alana: No Facebook. But the expectation of consumers these days is that everything is just going to happen really fast; they can literally just click and collect. They go online, they click something, they buy it, it’s delivered to their front door.

Lucy: Do you think that print media will cease to exist and, if so, how long do you think we have until this happens?

Alana: I really do and you’ve already seen it so much more now. Their (print media agencies) spends year on year are already dropping significantly and I think probably more so in the past three years, the brands like Newscorp and Fairfax of the world are actually merging their teams now. So initially it was more like, this is our print offering, this is our digital offering, but now they are all educated across the board so I don’t think it’s too far off. You know, I reckon probably in the next ten years, we won’t even, you won’t even see it.

Lucy: Yeah, I agree. Even five, I think. It’ll be completely different.

Alana: Five to ten years.

Lucy: If you think about five years ago, Instagram wasn’t even a thing and now…

Alana: Changing so fast!

Lucy: Yeah, it’s really scary.

Alana: Yeah.

Outro music plays.

Lucy: Well, thank you!

Alana: Is that it?

Lucy: Yeah, that’s it!

5 Ways the Internet Has Changed Novels

We all know how the internet has changed our lives. Memes are now a part of our daily e-routine, we are much more visually sophisticated than ever, and of course, getting out of a planned commitment is so much easier now when you can message ten minutes before you are supposed to meet to say you “aren’t feeling so good”.

Everybody knows that the internet has changed the way we write and publish. Old news. But how the online world has changed novels themselves – how and why they are written, who they are written for, and what they are written about – remains largely undiscussed.

So here are five ways the internet has changed novels:

  1. Self-publishing

Twenty years ago, publishing your own writing was the modern day equivalent of Apple’s terms and conditions on every new iPhone update; it was guaranteed to never be read by anyone. Ever.

Today, with the likes of FanFiction, AO3, and WordPress, self-publishing is literally at the push of a button. Amazon reaps a catalogue of thousands of books that are self-published, and even has a detailed guide on how to publish your own work through their affiliates.

Without the constraints of praying for a publisher to take pity on you, writers are not only able to control their works and the way they are presented more than ever, but they can receive instant feedback and even upload works chapter by chapter. Twins Harry and Matilda have not only self-published their own novel online, but have also used Instagram to upload the narrative in stages:

2. Quantity vs quality

Obviously, easier means of publishing creates more novels on the market than ever before. And self-publishing often directly correlates with works that are not edited thoroughly (if at all). With an influx of novels available online – both for purchase and as free downloads – the average intelligence level of novels themselves has been brought down.

Perhaps there are just as many clever novels being produced as there ever have been in number – or perhaps there are even more with literacy levels continuously on the rise – but the sheer quantity of what is available online means the weight is nearly all on the side of the badly written. And with so many novels finding a receptive audience irrespective of their quality, how do we define what a successful novel is?

3. Tunnel vision

Much like Facebook’s algorithm which filters your news feed so you see more of the kinds of things you usually read/click/like (yep, Facebook is Big Brother. It knows everything) and less of the things you don’t interact with, the number of novels in this online world means that there is more to read on any topic you are interested in.

Love the story of Anne Boleyn? You can literally find thousands of books on her life – and countless re-imaginings of her life – online. Pride and Prejudice your favourite book? Amazon Prime is full of adaptations that can let you stay in Elizabeth and Darcy’s world every night for the rest of your life if you want to.

The point is, now that there is so much more of everything, you are more likely to get stuck in certain fields (especially when you become addicted to stories like me) and therefore, you read less on other topics.

 

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…when I think of how many books there are to read. Original source.

 

4. Criticism

This is an obvious one. Before the internet, book sales and newspaper reviews were all an author had to judge the reception of their novel by. Paid reviewers had a much more dominant voice than they do today. Nowadays, where everybody feels entitled to a voice, a novel’s Goodreads page is inevitably filled with reviews from scathing to glittering (begging the question: how is one supposed to use Goodreads?). The likes of FanFiction and free iBooks also means that even the most basic writing has a responsive audience.

5. Access

Like how the printing press made novels accessible to the poor, the internet has made all forms of writing readily available to anybody with a computer worldwide. It isn’t just access to such a wide array of novels at the click of a button, but the ability to access so many of the same type of novel, that has changed the landscape of novel writing.

Stay tuned for more blog posts where I will delve into these ideas more deeply!

Featured image: Digital illustration: Lucy O’Rourke.