The CEO of a large computer firm spent very little on advertising. He understood that his products were purchased primarily by a relatively small number of technology professionals in large businesses. He had to fight with his marketing people who wanted to purchase expensive TV ads that reached millions of households which do not buy his computers. He saw no reason to spend millions to popularize the name of his firm. He was right. However, today he can target his ads to likely customers by using the social media to target his ads to potential customers at very low cost. The data collected by Facebook and Google allow him to market to potential customers. That, of course, is how Facebook and Google earn billions of dollars. The services they provide, without cost to users, are paid for by advertisers and marketing firms who hope to sell things to highly targeted markets.
We have learned that the social media have also been used to focus political campaigns on narrowly selected market at a much lower cost than expensive TV advertising that is used to reach mass markets. This article explains why it will be difficult for Facebook and Google, which also owns You Tube, to prevent the abuses that enable the distribution of propaganda at low cost to narrowly targeted prospects. The services that they provide must be popular enough to attract millions of users, and they must enable advertisers and others, including propagandists, to reach targeted markets at low cost. They also have a problem monitoring material that attracts a large audience but is also objectionable for a variety of reasons. For example, fake conspiracies are very popular but they also can be dangerous to individuals and to society. A false conspiracy about a pizza parlor that was used to sexually abuse children, caused a misinformed person to attack the pizza parlor. Unsavory videos on You Tube attract large audiences and the producers of the videos are rewarded by the size of the audience that they attract. The price of ads is based upon audience size as well.
Facebook and Google have taken steps to deal with some of the abuses of their products. However, it will be difficult for them to do so without undermining their business model which is totally dependent on advertising revenues and the information that they provide about users to potential advertiser.