Monday, January 14, 2013

Social media manipulation, a rant

If I didn't need a social media page to represent this blog properly, I'd probably stay almost completely off Facebook, Twitter, etc. Before I started writing again after a 5 year break after being burnt out on college papers, they were only used to check in on friends, play a couple games (remember Mafia Wars?) and to monitor 419 scammers in Nigeria.

Fast forward a few years and here I find myself watching people I used to have a some respect for sharing the most nonsensical stuff. I hate to break it to you but nobody is donating a dollar to a kid with cancer for every "like" a page or photo gets. Reposting a video about an African warlord won't stop him from using child soldiers nor will signing a White House petition get the government to allow your state to secede from the Union. Best Buy isn't going to give you a $1,000 gift card for sharing something on Facebook, just as that exiled Nigerian prince has no intention of ever sharing that fictitious $50 million if you just wire that $350 to his lawyer in London. That video of "OMG, I can't believe she wore that" your friend just tagged you in? That's usually a click-jacking scam which then uses your Facebook or Twitter page to spam out links for Viagra and hook other people into the same endless loop of unwitting victimization.

I know it gives you a good feeling when you share a picture of a kid that beat cancer or a dog greeting her owner just back from Afghanistan but what page did it come from? What are their motives? Did the person in the image grant permission for the use? Is the sobbing sister of the teacher who died at Sandy Hook comfortable with you using her moment of overwhelming grief to promote your agenda? These are things you should ask yourself before you hit that "like" button. Chances are very likely that you're doing nothing but giving someone free promotion for their real or fake business. If it is a legit company, you just gave them advertising that they didn't have to pay Facebook for. If it isn't, you possibly just became another number in the collection of "likes" that a page will then use to sell to another real or fake entity to repeat the same cycle. This article gives you an idea of how it works.

"But Whiskey, don't you make money from your page as well?" Yes I do. I network with other page owners to get my articles shared and yes, I get a check from Google (not Facebook) every once in awhile based off page traffic but it doesn't even cover the price I pay for internet access to run this thing. Unlike many others, I create my own original material and when sharing images, credit the pages I believe to be the originator as much as possible. It would be easy to just rip off stuff from other sites and claim it as my own to drive "likes" by appealing to emotions in order to move up in rankings and promote blog articles that cater repeatedly to a low intellect bias. I probably wouldn't have to drive a vehicle that wasn't 20 years old while worrying about when it would break down next, or if the next ad revenue check would cover my car insurance or phone bill was if that was the case.

There's many people out there with good ideas and causes that have no agenda other than doing anything other than making this world a better place. Sadly, so many of those with the best of intentions never get the exposure they deserve. Usually if you see a Facebook page that is only a couple days old, with over 100,000 fans, it is very likely you'll see that page spamming your news feed with something completely different within a few days once they've sold it to someone else for a couple hundred dollars. If you see a page that consistently shares articles from the same website asking you to "like and share" it, chances are they either have an agreement with that site owner which makes them money, or it is their own page that they're promoting. Ever notice how 10 different pages all share the same link within a few hours and it isn't to a major news site? There you go...

Let's be clear. Social media does help spread important messages of social awareness but it also presents a fertile ground for manipulation and creating legions of unwitting sycophants to further the agenda of putting the money in the pocket of someone preying on your good intentions. Wherever there is a news story, something that people are talking about, you can bet there is someone trying to make a quick buck off it.

Major media outlets like CNN, Fox and MSNBC are often just as guilty of this but you should never think that by solely liking and sharing, reTweeting, tagging or whatever...that this somehow substitutes for real action. If you want to find a cure for cancer, donate to a legitimate cancer research organization and lobby your member of Congress to appropriate funds for it. If you want to help a community affected by a tragedy, sharing a photo or article from a Facebook page or a website is probably not going to do anything other than put money in the pocket of the owner. Just keep that in mind next time you see that picture of a kid with cancer, a request for 1,000,000 likes to tell a girl with Down's Syndrome she is beautiful, or a link to "spread the truth" about a politician.


  1. Well written, thanks for sharing your insights. Those pages will burn themselves out soon enough. I do my pages because I enjoy it and it means something to me. :) Keep up the good work!

  2. Watch the LU/AdolI twits flip their shit because their game got called.

  3. Outstanding! You forgot to mention all the tedious posts masquerading as word games or quizzes (Bet you can't name six cities that begin with the letter 'V'...) All laughably transparent attempts to harvest thousands of replies and "Likes", perpetuating the open graph circle of circle-jerkness.