New Orleans There was an intriguing and in some ways unsettling piece in the New York Times recently about the growing power of Facebook and friends called “The Ads That Know Everything” by Burt Helm. The title of the piece in the online version lowered the “fright” index by calling it “How Facebook’s Oracular Algorithm Determines the Fate of Start-Ups.” No matter how they cleaned it up, trust me, it’s both compelling and scary.
True enough, the story was centered around a couple of buddies who ended up taking a deep dive into Facebook to create a multi-million dollar business. The heart of the piece was about the power of the Facebook algorithm matched to the vast billions of people on its platform and its ability to match smaller and smaller subsets of like-minded people or characteristics to sell stuff. Much the same could be said for Google’s work, but a social network is a social network, and one that sells stuff between friends and followers is crack to businesses.
No news there, right? But, as the Russians, hate groups, the women’s march, and #MeToo have all shown, it is also a way to combine people in affinity groups, and as sales are to businesses, recruitment of new members or activists is to mobilizations and organizations. By the time I read the piece my partner, a veteran community organizer, had pockmarked the article with scores of underlined passages and notes.
No news there either, right? Many leads in opening new countries for ACORN International have begun when I’ve received a random Facebook message over the transom of my own page. Our British affiliate has excelled in using Facebook’s public and private groups to recruit new members, especially in the Bristol area where they immediately visit, and usually sign up, any new “likes” their site.
The interesting takeaway from the Times article was how quickly one could scale the organizing if an organization had the resources to do similar experiments with the recruitment pitches and was all over it like “white on rice.” In fact, I’m sure there are large nonprofits, especially among the deeper pocketed groups like Planned Parenthood or some of the enviros that have digital organizers who use similar strategies to recruit donors or perhaps members as well. If there were unions willing to recruit general membership in the United States like there are in some cases in the United Kingdom, they could still probably finance the ad buys and constant feeding capacity to identify and recruit new members. Political campaigns like those run by Sanders, Trump, and Clinton probably were all over this technology. I don’t know for a fact that any of them are doing so, but they certainly have the opportunity following the same trail-and-error methodology to build a mass base of support.
There’s a huge opportunity here to build a mass organization if one coupled social networking recruitment with a real program and direct action involvement to build power. It was hard to escape the conclusion as I read the article that it could be done, and even done globally, but it would take real vision and patience combined with very deep pockets ready to feed Facebook and its friends.
Please enjoy Khruangbin’s Maria Tambien.
Thanks to KABF.