Not to make grandiose statements at 11am on a Tuesday, but: political divide arguably keeps the world ticking over - the necessary narrative of “us vs. them” is what keeps politicians in power and us tweeting. It is too true that with the dawning of a new political blunder, Twitter outrage comes piling in with serious tweet-per-minute figures. In the blooper-reel that is this world, global brands have many opportunities to capitalise on the politics of the day and their increasingly liberal audiences by rejecting politicians’ divisive narratives, instead encouraging unity. Take Skittles for example, who in Pride month last June ditched their iconic rainbow, to show that “only one rainbow matters” - a great message, particularly pertinent considering the then-recently-elected US President. Or consider Pepsi: they didn’t hit the mark with their April 2017 ad starring Kendall Jenner, but the narrative of bridging the ever-growing political divide is one that we know plays well with the consumer.
However, a new player in the world of digital marketing is taking an alternate approach and looking to widen the political divide: Russia. The Kremlin’s aptly-named Internet Research Agency spent hundreds of thousands of US dollars on targeted Facebook ads, pages and events, to influence the outcome of the 2016 US Presidential Election.
So, what happened? In 2016, it is widely suspected that Russian propagandists created thousands of targeted ads on Facebook that were designed not only to be divisive, but also point-blank fiction. One of these ads makes the claim that “Hillary Clinton has a 69 percent disapproval rate among veterans,” from the fake page ‘Heart of Texas’. Ingeniously, ‘Putin PR’ targeted Facebookers with interests in “patriotism,” and “supporting veterans:” with a page name like ‘Heart of Texas’, it was not particularly difficult for their ads to start hitting the right people. More outrageously, the Russian schemers even spread the lie that voting for the US election could be done through Twitter - a great idea for those of us with a distaste for leaving bed, but sadly not true. It is a shocking insight on how the power of social has threatened our democracy. And, #ICYMI, the Kremlin-backed candidate won.
Currently, US Congress is investigating Facebook, Google, and Twitter to understand how they allowed Russian users to purchase ads that actively promote political discourse in the United States. These internet giants may exist in a ruleless, no-holds-barred online planet but struggle to see that this has real world implications. Russian fake event pages led to genuine protests in the streets from real Americans who thought their voices were going to be heard. Nobody owns the internet, and thank god: perhaps if they did, the thousands of women speaking out recently against sexual predators in their lives and work would not be heard. However, it is clear that the lords of the internet need to begin taking onus for their political potential, if they insist on being so central to our lives.
The time has come for Zuck to put on a suit and come into the real world: while it’s all fun, games and self-driving cars at Silicon Valley, genuine and innocent people across the globe are falling victim to unregulated propaganda that has stained the most important institution we live by: democracy.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not of The Juice Academy.