The power and viability of social media as a tool to change narratives altogether have changed and this has occurred throughout the watershed election of 2016. A sharp discontinuity can be observed which has forced us to question- how much exactly of our life’s decisions are now being unassumingly affected by data, codes, and algorithms? It all began when revenue generation in the form of advertisements began gaining momentum- the concept of optimisation came about. Facebook ads delivery optimisation is used to help Facebook understand your ad campaign’s goals. Basically, you’re telling Facebook’s algorithms what your anticipated results are and who should see your ads.Facebook,as well as other online platforms, give advertisers a variety of tools to target precise audiences. This practice is called “microtargeting”, an idea that has been toyed over by conglomerates like Twitter and Google. This microtargeting, while initially brought into play to maximise revenue (when Facebook is optimising ads for relevance, they’re also optimising for Facebook’s profit margin), came to light as an election tactic due to the victory of Donald Trump in the 2016 election. It is still very much in play, with increasingly complex optimisation codes wielding enough power to have a large stake in our decision of who to vote for.
Researches show that Facebook has created specific audiences with public records in North Carolina and Facebook’s own demographic information to sort people by political party affiliation. Through this information, they have programmed the advertising optimisation in such a way that a Donald Trump campaign ad will be showed to an audience identified as being Republican, while a Bernie Sanders ad will be for the Democratic target audience. This ensures that vote banks remain protected and unfazed, and no new information or manifesto reaches the audience to sway any kind of opinion. In one research by Northeastern University, they found that when they targeted an audience of users defined by Facebook to have “likely engagement with the US political content (Liberal)” and an equal audience of people who have “likely engagement with the US political content (Conservative),” 60 percent of the liberal users saw their Democratic ads, and only 25 percent saw the Republican ads. If a political advertiser wanted to overcome this ideological rift, they had to shell out more for the ad, oftengoing up to twoor three times more.
The wide-ranging amount of influence that unseen and unregulated algorithms have on everything we do is garnering a large amount of suspicion- whether it is Facebook or even Google Maps; an algorithm is always going to be at play, optimising everything we see online. Accountability and transparency have become necessary before we lose entire control of our personal data and mindsets, and consequently our own free will. It is about time we ask of this to be measured and audited.