In the first of three Senate judiciary subcommittees investigating Russian meddling in the 2017 U.S. Presidential Election, there were no shortage of hard questions for tech giant representatives (Facebook, Twitter, Google).
10 months on since the inauguration of Donald Trump and the prevalance of disinformation — yes, the much heralded rise of ‘fake news’ coined, ironically, by Trump himself — circulating social media networks remains a concerning trend. The power to influence election outcomes (Facebook in particular has been singled out on this issue) has become a central theme of the Senate investigations.
Significantly, why did Facebook accept political advertisements paid for in Russian roubles. In the video clip Senator Al Franken put Facebook’s Chief Legal Counsel Colin Stretch on the hot seat for Facebook’s seeming inability to connect 2 rather obvious (and highly suspicious) data points:
Franken: “How did Facebook, which prides itself on being able to process billions of data points and instantly transform them into personal connections for its users, somehow not make the connection that electoral ads paid for in roubles were coming from Russia? Those are two data points! American political ads and Russian money: roubles. How could you not connect those two dots?”
“People are buying ads on your platform with roubles. They’re political ads. You put billions of data points together all the time. That’s what I hear that these platforms do: they’re the most sophisticated things invented by man, ever. Google has all knowledge that man has ever developed. You can’t put together roubles with a political ad and go hmm, those two data points spell out something bad?”
The use of ad blocking software went up a whopping 30% in 2016. Their popularity, particularly among web-savvy millennials, has been on the rise for several years and shows no signs of slowing down. PageFair, a company that studies the digital landscape says in their 2017 Global Adblock Report that 11% of the global internet population (using 615 million global devices) are now actively blocking ads. Anyone who works in the digital advertising industry might be slightly alarmed by these numbers.
Many high profile web sites have begun to institute rather drastic measures to recoup lost advertising revenues. Visit Wired or the LA Times with an ad blocker enabled browser lately? You’ll be greeted with an ad block wall politely asking you to deactivate your ad blocker if you want to continue consuming content.
Looks like the free ride is over. The days of free-to-consume news appear to be coming to a close on the web. Newspapers, faced with declining print circulation, are moving more resources to their digital editions. Quality journalism cost money. The free access/ad supported model clearly isn’t sustainable in the face of growing ad blocker usage.
Partial paywalls like on The Globe & Mail provide free access to some articles while restricting access to ‘premium’ content with the aim of converting the casual readers into monthly paid subscribers.
But getting people to pay for news and infotainment online seems to be a slow uphill battle as evident when you consider 74% of ad block users say they leave websites with ad block walls.
Lately I seem to be spending more time accessing the mobile Web on my Android phone and less time through a conventional desktop browser. In fact, I’m not alone in this behaviour. Last week Google published a very telling infographic on their Mobile Ad Blog illustrating the rise of so-called multi-screen consumer behaviour. That is, people using more than one device (e.g. smartphone, laptop, tablet, TV) to accomplish a goal—be it: shopping, managing their finances, or planning a trip.
The statistics I found most interesting in this report: 38% of daily media interactions are on smartphones; 77% of “television viewers” watch TV on their smartphone or other device.
Shopping too, has become more digitally oriented involving multiple screens with smartphones and other readily connected devices making possible 81% of what Google refers to as “spur-of-the-moment shopping” or spontaneous goal-oriented searches.
With media consumption increasingly occurring through mobile devices it isn’t surprising to hear cable companies talk about the possibility of offering consumers pay-per-channel subscriptions. The current—and much loathed—television packages that typically force us into paying for channels we really don’t want (or watch) may soon be coming to an end, though perhaps too little too late a strategy for luring back disenchanted cord cutters.
While it’s easy to criticize the television industry for clinging to outdated models in light of the range and flexibility of viewing options available online, digital advertising too has its own fair share of hurdles lying ahead, particularly in the mobile space.
The push to monetize popular social networks like Facebook primarily through advertising revenues remains a questionable approach at best considering recent studies suggest 40% of mobile ad clicks are fraud or accidents.
Aside from the percentage of legitimate ad clicks versus those resulting from inadvertent actions (think fat fingers accidentally clicking or sliding across ads on a grimy touch screen—yes, I do it all the time too) the bigger question worth asking is whether or not ads really belong on social networks in the first place.
We don’t go onto Facebook or Twitter looking to research products or buy something new, instead we’re there interacting with friends and family, sharing Clint Eastwood invisible Obama jokes with others, and so on. As Diego Basch candidly points out, these sites shove ads in our faces and tempt us to buy shit we don’t need; “That’s the time-tested TV model. This entails annoying most people who are there simply for entertainment purposes.”
If I want annoying ads shoved in my face I’ll turn on the TV and watch a program on a channel I didn’t want included in my rinky-dink bundled package.
Image source: DorteF