The game is on!
It’s been on for a while now, and we’ve all been playing. You, me, social platform owners, brand managers, political parties and more. While our motivations to play the game of social media may have differed, we all loved the game. We shared photos, likes, dislikes, views and more on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and anything else that became the latest place to hang out on.
For companies wanting to engage potential and existing customers, voters, donors and volunteers it was a field ready for picking. Instead of relying on the age old marketing methods of post-facto research, here was live data on what people believed in, expected, desired and brought. The information was gathered, analysed and then used to make focused campaign messages, video, photos and sometimes even news that resonated with the targeted customers. This helped achieve the marketing objective, i.e. product purchases, votes, donations and anything else that the campaign funder desired. The game became a self-feeding cycle where we shared our information and marketers adapted the insight to give new products and services. A win-win for all. We got appreciation, a chance to say our bit, sometimes huge visibility when a message, photo or video went viral and many times a warm fuzzy feeling of well-being and togetherness. Marketers got a new sales channel with instant feedback loops of ready and willing customers. Social platforms backed by venture capitalists raised even more capital based on the rising numbers of advertisers and users. All was well with the world!
Who cared that the data was surreptitiously aggregated, communication was at times fake and digital surveillance was raising its ugly head? Privacy was dead after all. The Google CEO had announced it to be in 2008.
Then came fake news, Cambridge Analytica and the deep inroads into Facebook data that seemingly swung the US elections. It was a strike of unimaginable proportions. It shook the world in the same way that the nuclear strike had in 1945. But why did it raise such a stink this time round, it was marketing after all? The election candidate was just a product, data that had been available anyway and campaigns that had been based on what voters wanted to hear anyway? Analytics had simply generated remarkably accurate insight and remember privacy had been dead anyway, so what was the big deal?
This time though it was different! Smart marketing driven by lax laws and a receptive audience had converted the biggest show of democracy into a spectacle which could almost be comic if it wasn’t so tragic.
It’s no longer a game now. It’s a real and present danger. Information is being captured about us and can and will be used against us. At stake is everything we stand for, the right to express, the right to believe and the right to equality. In a data centered world, the company or person who controls the data will control us. There is very real danger that unfettered data access could create monopolies, duopolies and dictatorships.
But where is corporate responsibility in all this? As global leaders congregate in Davos for the World Economic forum it is perhaps time to discuss what rapid globalisation and technological change will mean to for business responsibility in this era. The difference between the manufacturing giants that caused environmental pollution and the software companies is that environmental pollution and damage is there for everyone to see and feel, the actions of digital companies on the other hand have been hidden. Now that they have been called out the contagion is spreading fast, almost everything is under scrutiny, data laws, privacy settings, news sources and feeds and above all the big question – how do we ensure corporate responsibility in a world driven by technology? Recent events have shown that the promise of a technology driven world may not be goodness and bright, happy, shining people but something far darker and disturbing. Can we come together to create a better future or will forever be victims who did nothing when it was time to end the game? Can Davos create the language of balance?