The Cambridge Analytica Facebook scandal has hit the headlines in the last week. It went into meltdown worldwide because of politics. If a toilet paper company had used the data in the same alleged way I don’t think we’d all be talking about it. President Trump’s name is involved and more broadly the issue about social media impacting politics with fake news has been around for the last year.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with how Facebook really works, this news that Facebook can be used in such a way will have come as a surprise to you. To some of us in the digital and social media marketing industry, using social media to get results for clients is nothing new (However we obviously work within the law).

Here is what you need to know.

Facebook is an advertising and marketers dream

What you need to know that Facebook is an iceberg. You only see the tip of it above the water. You may use Facebook purely for pleasure. You may post updates, videos, photos. Comment on friends posts. The vast majority of Facebook is underneath the water. It is a global data sorter and persona builder. It is actively and continuously building a profile of you. And literally billions of others.

It’s doing it not for you, but for people like me. Digital marketers. So we can reach you with our clients marketing and advertising messages. Their primary revenue goal is for marketers to spend money advertising their products and services on the platform and beyond.

Yes, Facebook want the user to have a great experience. The reason they want that is that, if people leave then that means that they can’t charge as much as they currently do and aren’t making profits for their shareholders.

Simply put, Facebook is the largest, most powerful, consumer insight driven advertising targeting tool in human history.

In traditional mainstream advertising there are companies called ‘media buyers’ who effectively do in a very ‘old school’ way what Facebook has managed to do on a global scale. The media buyers would make recommendations to advertising agencies on which channels to use so that they would best reach their intended audience. Media buyers would recommend outdoor advertising, TV, radio, print… you get the idea.

Facebook’s Ad Manager does that for you. On a global scale. It places ads on Facebook, Instagram and what they call audience network (online news, and magazines) and many more options. It’s the global social media buyer if you like.

Politics and Facebook

Political parties are like everyone else is trying to reach their audiences. Their ultimate goal in an election campaign is to get elected. Anything that gives them the edge, especially when it comes to getting ‘swinging voters’ to vote for them is very attractive. That is why the Cambridge Analytica scandal isn’t a surprise for me.

At the core of this scandal is this very point. It’s about getting the competitive edge over your political competition. Political parties in the past have used traditional media buyers like businesses and agencies have done. What has been alleged in this case is that Cambridge Analytica offered them something even better than Facebook could offer. Deeper and more individual insights into these kinds of voters.

I’ve looked at this scandal with some amusement (Not because of the data-mining. If that was illegally done, then it is wrong and shouldn’t be supported at all). I’ve been amused because if a political party hired a decent digital marketer who knew how to get the most out of Facebook’s advertising manager they could actually reach those ‘swinging voters’ on issues they care about. It’s not that hard. Really!

Consumers and Facebook

If you use Facebook just socially then you can now take a conscious, informed decision. Use it in the knowledge that digital marketers like myself, companies, agencies will use it to put our client’s message in front of you.

Or you can delete your profile, leave the platform and join Twitter. (It’s okay, their advertising manager is no where near as good! Yet.)

Just so you know, Google does the same too in a very different way with it’s search engine. Ever wondered why you have a gmail account? They now have your name, address, date of birth, phone number, when you are searching. And much more. Pretty darned smart.

LinkedIn also use a similar system, Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) uses Facebook’s Ads Manager so you can’t escape the gaze of the data hoover.

There are a few things as a consumer you can do if you want to rebel a bit:

Change your:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Sex
  • Date of birth
  • Occupation
  • Write or search about things that you aren’t interested in.

Basically confuse the profile all the big data mines are building on you.

For Marketers

I think what we all want is to be proud of what we do. To do that we need to act well within the law with a strong personal ethic of ‘is this legal’ rather than ‘can this help us beat the competition’ at whatever the cost.

I personally don’t live to work, I work to live. I enjoy and get a huge amount of professional satisfaction through achieving results and outcomes. But it isn’t what I live for. I want to be able to sleep at night knowing I’ve done the right thing, and done it well.

The Companies

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google… you all have a huge responsibility in an online global age where information insights helps your business succeed. You must put the consumer first. Their rights, choice of how private they want to be. You must be whiter than white. Not only be seen, but actually live it out.

I think it’s time that you all came together to create a code of ethics. One that can be applied globally.

The bottom line

Love it, or hate it. Data driven insights are not going away online in search or in social. For digital marketers like myself we’ll continue to use it (legally of course) to help our marketing efforts. We all have choices to make on how we use the internet. I for one just want to go to sleep at night knowing I’m doing the right thing. No matter who I support politically.

What can we all do?

I’m calling on all Search and Social Media companies to come together to create a global code of ethics that they can all live by.

Will you join me by taking action on this campaign? Learn more here.

After you’ve signed the petition please also take a moment to share it with others. It’s super easy – all you need to do is forward this blog post, or share it on social media! That could be kinda cool. Using the platforms to help bring positive change.