Digital campaigns have evolved from banner ads 20 years ago to Cambridge Analytica harvesting our Facebook data. Has the rise of micro-targeting become a threat to democracy?
Alan Gould was hitting a wall. It was the late 1990s, and the political advertising operative had an idea about using a relatively newfangled tool banner ads on web sites to promote political candidates. It was pretty clear to me at the time that the ability to target and tailor messaging was perfect for political campaigns, Gould recalled recently. I did a whole presentation on the internet and the power to connect, track, do fundraising, target.
But when Gould finished his pitches, he would be met with blank stares. I was a very lonely pied piper, he says.
Finally, in 1998, Gould found a political candidate who was so far behind in the polls, and so strapped for cash, that he was willing to take a risk and spend $100,000 on banner ads on the New York Times homepage. Peter Vallone, then a New York City council member challenging George Pataki for the governorship, gave Gould the green light for an ad buy that has since entered the history books as the first significant use of online advertising in a political campaign.
The ads themselves are lost to internet history Gould believes he may have copies somewhere on floppy discs. But its not hard to draw a line from that moment to Robert Muellers 16 February indictment of the Internet Research Agency, which alleges that Russian agents carried out a conspiracy to interfere with a US presidential election, in large part by purchasing targeted Facebook ads designed to encourage US minority groups not to vote.Or to the news recently revealed in the Observer that 50m Facebook profiles were obtained and misused by data mining company Cambridge Analytica to target voters during the 2016 presidential election.
The Vallone ads contained rudimentary versions of many of the attributes that make digital advertising such a powerful and terrifying force today: the ability to target specific audiences with tailored messages, then track their reaction.
Come November 2000, I expect the question will no longer be whether web-based political advertising works, wrote Cyrus Krohn, then the manager of political advertising for the Microsoft Network, in a prescient 1999 column for Slate, but whether it works too well.
Nearly 20 years later, the world has caught up to Krohns concerns, with some critics making the not entirely hyperbolic argument that micro-targeted dark advertising on Facebook is a fundamental threat to democracy itself. Is it too late for democracy to fix itself?
In February, Donald Trump named Brad Parscale as his 2020 re-election campaign manager. The decision lends credence to what Parscale has been saying for the past year: that his Facebook advertising operation won Trump the election.
Source article viahttp://www.theguardian.com/us