11 May 2017
Do you know who should be running the country yet?
With four weeks to go until the general elections, campaigning is in full force once again and it will be interesting to see how big a role social media is going to play in helping us to decide.
I was intrigued to read about Facebook employing senior Conservative and Labour campaign officials to help it become more of a political influencer, earlier this week.
It’s particularly interesting looking back at the last 12 months and seeing exactly how much of an impact social media has on election results. Both the Leave.EU and Trump campaigns were very successful at reaching voters on Facebook.
It’s kind of scary, when you think about it, exactly what social media platforms like Facebook are able to do. They know so much about their users that deciding what information does or doesn’t reach them is a really easy thing to do. Political parties are even turning to companies that target voters based on a psychometric profile created from their social media activity! Whilst micro-targeting can be a handy tool in advertising, expanding it to politics opens up a whole other can of worms.
I believe that, to be able to make an informed decision, data shouldn’t be used to inform us about what we already know – or think we know. Instead, why don’t we use it to help us understand the full story?
The story about these campaign officials at Facebook has lit up the debate on regulation of social media. It’s a complicated issue and I have to admit I struggle to make my mind up about it! On the one hand, if social media is going to inform their users about news and political events, why should they be treated any differently than newspapers or television? But on the other hand, they exist to make a profit, and they have already crossed a line by accepting large payments for these strategic advertising campaigns.
Perhaps more than being treated like reliable news sources, we should look at social media for what it really is: an advertising platform. It’s strange to think that some people are more sceptical of watching a shampoo advertisement, which has to live up to strict regulation and codes, than they are of reading a news story published by an unknown source on Facebook.
Of course, some of the responsibility of ensuring a smooth election campaign has to lie with social media; fighting fake news and fake accounts is important. But until a fool-proof fact-checking system is in place, nobody is stopping us from researching the stories we read or turning to more reliable news sources to keep us informed.
What do you think? Should social media be regulated?