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  • Writer's pictureJames Green

THE GREAT HACK: A Facebook Ads Agency Owner's honest review

One of the first scenes of Netflix's new documentary gave me a strong hit of déjà vu from some of my sales meetings...

"Who has seen an advertisement, that has convinced you that your microphone is listening to your conversations?

It's hard for us to imagine how else it would work...

But, what's happening is your behaviour is being accurately predicted, the ads that seem uncannily accurate, that have to be eavesdropping on us, are more likely to be evidence that the targeting works, and predicts our behaviour."

Thank you Professor David Carrol, I couldn't sum it up better myself.

The sheer amount of data Facebook has to optimise ads combined with human cognitivie bias lends to this 'creepy' feeling.

You are likely to see around 10,000 marketing messages every day, the odds are that a few of these link to conversations you've had with friends recently.

"All your interactions, credit cards swipes, web searches, locations, likes...

All are collected in real time and connected to your identity, giving any buyer direct access to your pulse.

Armed with knowledge they compete for my attention, feeding me a steady stream of content built for, and only seen, by me.

And this is true for each and everyone of us..."

This documentary's first half focuses on how platforms like Facebook can gather consumer data and why they do so.

Second half really focuses in on Cambridge Analytica and their actions along with the testimonies of some ex colleagues who are torn between ashamed/ proud of what they have done.

Cambridge Analytica has become a buzzword for Facebook and privacy it seems, but they were essentially a marketing & PR agency with a specific niche of political campaigns.

They used social media advertising combined with other data to influence the US election and Brexit vote, arguably being a huge factor in achieving success for their clients- Trump & Vote Leave (even though they deny this relationship throughout).

If you are after definitive answers over where this will end, what actually happened, who was to blame you might be dissapointed as it doesn't dig much deeper than any of the information that is already out there apart from some email exchanges and insight into working for Cambridge Analytica, which most ex-employees still seemed nostalgic thinking about how ingenious they had been.

Also it very much focuses on just Facebook & Cambridge Analytica when equally Netflix themselves analyse huge streams of data which affects which thumbnails individuals see, their recommendations, but also future commissions.

Famously the House of Cards series was one of the first 'data-driven' commissions of a TV series

The concept of 'Fake News' can be traced back decades in propaganda wars across all media platforms in all countries, but it really came to the forefront during Cambridge Analytica's campaign and it is scary the power they had spreading disinformation to individuals who are more likely to be swayed, 'The Persuadables', as they are labelled.

It is important to highlight that using social media advertising as another arm of PR was a strategy initially developed by Barack Obama's successful campaign and is still and will be used by all political parties as it is effectively the new way people consume media.

By identifying voters on the fence in polls and matching their data from social profiles they amassed a huge network of data and psychographics to find these 'Persuadables' in key areas and focused their click-bait, fake-news articles to these individuals most likely to be influenced by them.

This is the dark side, weaponising the amazing capabilities that Facebook Ads can do....

The documentary hasn't decided to talk about the major restructuring on the platform to combat this.

Measures dedicated to more transparency around pages.

You can now see previous names and who manages the page as one issue with the disinformation being promoted was constantly repurposing the page and changing it's name to resonate with certain audiences.

It is easier now to view a brand's adverts they are using, why they are in your feed but also, for political pages you can see the amount that is being spent!

See below for the UK's major parties current Facebook Ad spend, with some surprising results!

More importantly much more restrictions and approvals are in place for the ads that Facebook deems as political or social issues.

Facebook released a list of these issues which include:

  • abortion

  • budget

  • civil rights

  • crime

  • economy

  • education

  • energy

  • environment

  • foreign policy

  • government reform

  • guns

  • health

  • immigration

  • infrastructure

  • military

  • poverty

  • social security

  • taxes

  • terrorism

  • values

So next time you are running ads, don't get too frustrated with the approval process, it is there for a reason!

The major breach of CA accessing 'friends' data of anyone that gave permissions through one of the psychological quizzes has been massively clamped down on too!

Imagine though...

Instead of using this technology trying to influence the voting in elections...

  • But filling up your yoga studio?

  • Or selling more of your vegan snack bars?

  • Or finding more customers for your construction business?

  • Or generating more B2B leads?

I think this documentary might be good in the long run, to not sensationalise what these platforms do and do not know, and further educating the public.

Giving more insight into the potential opportunities out there for small, local businesses and everyday entrepreneurs with these advertising platforms.

I still don't think my parents understand what I do but they know more now than before watching this!

Overall it's a decent watch, an overdramatic Netflix doc that is interesting and to be taken with a pinch of salt.

With more legislation to be ironed out, another film probably gives the best advice for any tech powerhouse and those using it...

With great power, comes great responsibility!

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