I’m sure, or at least hope, the irony of Mark Zuckerberg using newspapers to apologize for letting Facebook user data be used unscrupulously in a presidential campaign didn’t go over most people’s heads.
In case you get all your news from Facebook, which didn’t display the apology as far as I know, some company that compiles data for political candidates to use took a lot of data they pulled from Facebook and used it to let candidates know the kind of people they should target and where they lived.
How did they do this? Well, you know those quizzes/tests that tell you which character you’d be in certain TV shows or what kind of dog you’d be if you were a dog? Those. The answers you give is considered data and since you don’t read the fine print (none of us do) the companies that get that data can use it however you wish.
Facebook is being blamed for this since people’s own stupidity is never responsible for anything (Did it really improve your life to know you would have been the Professor on “Gilligan’s Island?”), Zuckerberg and the company he created in 2004 are being blamed.
While several candidates used the data in the run up to the 2016 election, Trump (of course) used a lot of it and that has set one side on fire while the other side demands to know what the big deal is. Because, of course, we have to have sides. God forbid we ever agree on anything.
Now we have Zuckerberg using newspapers to make his apology in the shape of full-page ads in major daily newspapers, though it would be fair to ask if any newspaper is considered major nowadays.
The irony, if I’m using the term correctly, is that Facebook has all but destroyed the newspaper industry. Things have leveled off some, but there was a period of time where you couldn’t start a day without getting the news that some big daily in a place like New Orleans or Seattle had printed its last edition.
The small town newspaper industry, which I’ve been a part of for most of my adult life, has been spared most of the carnage, though a bunch of them are being sold. Still, across the board, circulation numbers and ad sales are down, though some are starting to make this internet thing work.
You could make the argument that the internet started killing the newspaper business before Facebook came along, and you wouldn’t be wrong. Craig’s List pretty much killed the classified section of newspapers. The Knoxville daily doesn’t even bother printing a classified section on Mondays and the rest of the week isn’t anything to brag about.
But Facebook was the final, biggest nail. On the small town level, it took the things that made us special and immediately made it available to everyone, in full color. Sports and things like weddings and birthdays used to be what made everybody pick us up. If your kid had a great day on the field or court, where else could you see it other than your local newspaper?
Now everybody in the stands has a high definition camera on their phone, pictures are taken and immediately shown on Facebook. In the old days, which weren’t really that long ago, if our sports people had more games to cover than people, those pictures would immediately be brought to us and we’d run them and there would be very few editions returned to us.
Now, we aren’t given the first thought. You know those 75 people that comment how great your kid’s game is, or the 150 that like the photo? About half of those are people that would have bought our product to see the picture back then. Now multiply that by 50 or more to get the bigger picture.
I know, the loss of ad revenue hurts more than not having a picture of some kid throwing a ball, but it all goes together in the final conclusion. And we have Facebook, and to a lesser extent, Twitter, to thank. But if you expect Facebook to give a flip about what your local government bodies are doing, without the filter of a government Facebook page, you can probably expect to be unhappy without an unbiased outlet to turn to.
So, I do find it ironic that Zuckerberg used newspapers to put his apology out. I hope they tripled their usual ad rate cost for him.