Social networks and online advertising enable micro-propaganda to be effective. There is no need for mass broadcasting when just a few hold the levers of power.
Online advertising allows for extremely granular targeting that is essentially targeting of specified individuals. Advertisers use segments when advertising online; groups of people to target that have been chosen using a combination of variables.
Often, the terms of service for networks such as Facebook won’t allow for specific individuals to be targeted. I can’t say: “target John Smith in Fargo, ND”. But I can create a segment that is so granular that I am effectively targeting an individual anyway. Let’s say John Smith is a shoemaker. I can set parameters like so: “find males in Fargo, ND, between ages 40 and 45, with children, divorced, with occupation: shoemaker”. And so I’ve essentially isolated John Smith anyway, without specifying him exactly.
The data collected about us is so strong that we’ve allowed micro-targeting to become a reality.
A New Frontier In Messaging
We have never had the level of granularity currently available for targeting messaging.
Let’s say you wanted to target a specific group or individual in the past. Before the internet changed everything and decentralized people’s sources of information, we basically knew what messaging others were consuming. If a corporation wanted to run its lobbying messages on TV, such as “fracking is good for American jobs”, everyone else watching the TV show would see it too. Even if a message wasn’t intended for them, we used to have insight.
We no longer know what messaging is being shown to others in our society.
This is a fundamental change to the memetic channels in our culture. Even if specific people used to be targeted with direct mail, there would be physical evidence of that messaging attempt.
Ultra-granular targeting, and lack of communal messaging insight, enable micro-propaganda.
This means that specific people can be targeted with propaganda messages, without anyone else’s knowledge. The only people that know such messages are being sent are the sender, who has no incentive to report it, and the networks, who cannot be trusted.
Note that the senders could include the networks themselves. Remember that your feed is not chronological. What is shown to you on Facebook and Twitter is determined by an algorithm (or something else), but messages are not presented in the order they were sent. This opens the door for specific users to be manipulated through the feeds, and since there’s no “true” communal feed to compare to, the influence is invisible.
The result is that advertisers and social networks themselves can manipulate specific users, or groups of users, without anyone else’s knowledge and without any accountability or oversight whatsoever. Individual legislators could be targeted for bills. Specific people on city councils, school boards, and neighborhood associations can be manipulated.
There is no need for mass propaganda any more, with this level of customization available. The future is in micro-propaganda.