“Consumers are like roaches – you spray them and spray them and they get immune after a while.”
David Lubars, senior ad executive, Omnicom Group, quoted by Naomi Klein in No Logo
Social media offered the promise of honest news and dissemination of information, free from corporate interference. We believe the blogs we read are from the grassroots; from people who sincerely want to convey their point of view. Global Voices is a great example of this in practice, Ghana Bloggers another. We feel these are people writing because they care and, perhaps, we trust them more because of this. We are also more likely to trust the views of our friends on Facebook and other social networking sites.
I believe this trust could become compromised which will mean we’ll have to look more carefully behind the words of friends and those we believed were writing from their convictions.
Advertisers are struggling to make their voices heard in a market place that is becoming increasingly noisy due to their own loud voices. In order to stand out, they have to find ever more devious ways to break through the clutter.
Governments also have a problem – we don’t trust them. The dissemination of propaganda is becoming more of a challenge as we are more sceptical if information is seen to come directly from a government source.
Both corporations and governments are looking for new avenues to channel information and they are using our trusted peers as their mouthpieces.
Governments and corporations have approached bloggers and those active in social media in Ghana, to find new avenues to disseminate their information. We can be sure they are doing the same thing in other countries. They work the same way they have always worked with journalists – favourable write-ups are rewarded with privileged access to their propaganda, or products are given for ‘review’.
From the other point of view, some bloggers hope to make a living from their activities in cyber-space and why not? Some sites are clearly about reviewing and marketing products and we value them for that. We also enjoy reading ‘insider’ information and want to be the first to hear about a new development.
The problem is when the boundaries become blurred. We need to declare if the views we are expressing come from government sources or are the result of meetings with them. A little skepticism and critical analysis of their views is helpful! We should declare if the product we are advertising through our ‘review’ is a result of the encouragement of a free gift. We need to keep alert and maintain our integrity.
The phrase “Manufacturing consent” comes to mind. It’s the title of book by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky taken from a phrase by Walter Lippmann. He believed the masses should be ruled by an elite by manipulating them to think and vote the ‘right’ way. The manipulation of social media is just one expression of this.
It is also worth noting that the USA government is developing ‘sock puppet’ software according to this report – Revealed: US spy operations that manipulates social media. The software will “let it secretly manipulate social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter by using fake online personas to influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda”. At the moment they will not be targeting English speaking sites as it is illegal to target US audiences in this way!
Social media offered the possibility of widening democracy. If these attempts to manipulate us are successful it will be democracy, and our minds, that will be the casualties.