July 10th, 2014
Would it be foolish to assume that nobody really trusts Facebook?--But that we use it anyway, simply because, well.., it's there, it sort of works, and everybody you know is on the thing?
Creative people, artists and writers, involved in the frenzy of self-promotion know well enough the intense pressure to seek "Likes" and similar. Heck, Facebook was certainly useful in promoting my last Stardrop graphic novel.
But holy smokes! The foundation upon which it rests is made of sand.
FB recently admitted to tampering with several hundred thousand user news feeds in order to run a social experiment, (sending only positive or negative stories to randomly chosen users in order to measure psychological responses.)
Now, it is fair to say that my involvement with social media is ridiculously limited. I don't fit there very well, and not entirely for lack of trying. I'll diligently put up new Stardrop strips on Deviantart and Tumblr, but the nature of my comics doesn't fit the profile of viral popularity. Being both bi-weekly, (which roughly translates as, "Almost Never" in terms of internet frequency), and black & white, they don't tend to garner much attention. Also, Stardrop really works best in collected book form.
Of course, I naturally take pride in my comics being among the higher caliber, more intelligently crafted works out there in terms of content, story-telling execution, and reliable production schedule. Stardrop, for all its cuteness and fun, contains some pretty sharp stuff; suitable for both the discerning adult reader and the average 10 year-old with a soul. -And it's also getting to be one of the older strips on-line. (Ashelle and friends first graced the scene back in 2007).
It has been said, "A samurai knows his worth." -I'm no samurai, but neither am I going to pretend that I don't know how to handle a stylus or a keyboard with some facility. But seriously, if I am being perfectly honest, I am no less inclined than anyone else to feel my mouse pointer pulled toward boobs and flashy colors when surfing for something to read, so I'm not about to get sniffy when my work is overlooked. I know the score.
So this editorial isn't about that.
It's about social media as a marketing tool, and specifically, how Facebook is shifty and unreliable in this regard.
Consider: if I post a new comic strip on Facebook, it's up to the secretive algorithmic whim of Mark Zuckerberg's management team as to whether or not that strip is included in the feeds of the few hundred people signed up to follow my FB pages. Sometimes after posting, I'll get a noteworthy spike in coverage and lots of feedback. Cool. Other times. . , it's tumbleweeds and nothing.
Here's a great little quote from the recent story on Facebook's manipulation of user feeds...
Results aside, the study itself is rather creepy. Though the study did not breach the Facebook user terms and conditions, it was deemed questionable by the editor of the study, according to the Atlantic. From the Atlantic:
"Even Susan Fiske, the professor of psychology at Princeton University who edited the study for Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of America, had doubts when the research first crossed her desk.
"'I was concerned,' she told me in a phone interview, 'until I queried the authors and they said their local institutional review board had approved it - and apparently on the grounds that Facebook apparently manipulates people's News Feeds all the time. I understand why people have concerns. I think their beef is with Facebook, really, not the research.'
"'Who knows what other research they're doing.'"
I'm with Susan Fiske on that one.
Though I'm willing to take a stab at the question: Facebook and other social media businesses are not just doing secretive and morally ambiguous research, but they actively sell their data collection/manipulation services to anybody with a big enough pocket book. And who would that be..?
Now, I'll admit freely to being among those who were not at all surprised by the landmark Edward Snowden reveals over the past many months regarding the wide-spread, illegal and utterly out of control secret surveillance of the civilian population. Heck, I stopped trusting authorities long ago, resting in uneasy certainty that they were messing with the communications and media world almost since its inception. Though, I will also admit to being mildly annoyed and disappointed with the world for being so earnestly shocked by the Snowden reports exactly because it demonstrated just how hopelessly reliant our society has become upon Official Culture and the talking heads of established News Media for the dissemination of Truth. Waiting with bated breath for the official organs to admit that they are not trustworthy before finally accepting the reality of the problem is a tad infantile. But at least it was now, "official". sigh.
Back to the point at hand: Is Facebook modulating exposure of my work?
How would I know? I'm certainly a very small fish in a very big pond. -But as somebody wise once observed with regard to influence, "Nobody is a Nobody." Butterfly wings, and all of that...
Here's a story my readers may find interesting:
Back in the early days following 9/11, I was posting anonymously with both frequency and fury in a variety of forums, and I was doing so in a manner which garnered a fair bit of attention from fellow posters. On that historically momentous day of the great Western Media photo-op wherein the Saddam Hussein statue was being pulled down by the supposed angry mob of civilian Iraqis hungry for democracy and Western involvement in their country, within hours I was re-posting hard to find photographs and exposes of the artificial and heavily stage-managed nature of that event.
Shortly thereafter, I experienced with some frustration my internet connection become unreliable to the point of useless. Not just dropped connections, which can be explained readily enough by poor wiring or static on the lines, but also odd password and login failures which are less easily explained away. -Upon calling the tech support department of my ISP, I was confronted with, at first, helpful technicians who, upon escalating the problem, became cagey, nervous and evasive. The problem didn't resolve. I eventually switched service providers in order to fix the issue.
In the heartland of Toronto's teeming downtown scene, I was describing some of my internet woes to a contact of mine who hailed from within the darker corners of the Western military establishment. I asked idly whether it was conceivable that I was being deliberately messed with. To my surprise, my contact took me quite seriously and offered to look into it. A day later, I was informed in no uncertain measure that, Yes, there was now a file on me. My internet proclivities had put me on the Black World radar.
This, naturally, shot me through with a jolt of adrenaline, and I became more circumspect in how I participated in the on-going discussions regarding all things hegemonic. So, perhaps I may be forgiven for being leery now, despite my tiny megaphone influence on the world of public perception. After all, I don't post pictures of cute kitties on FB.
So... are my FB posts being mitigated by the Powers That Be?
I really don't know. On the surface it seems unlikely, (though my ego would certainly be more than willing to accept the idea). What I DO know is that they can and will modulate the size of any given soap box or personal megaphone whenever they feel like it. -They have already done so with hundreds of thousands of people that we know of, and if we are being honest with ourselves, how much doubt is there really that they don't extend these manipulations on a far wider scale? Do I *really* need that nagging bit of paranoia included in my day? Sheesh.
When I write and draw comics, I strive to create happy, encouraging, mildly subversive anti-authoritarian fiction. Heck, unlike your average Disney fare, Thieves & Kings didn't put Elite Royalty in the Hero Boots. In T&K, thieves and the other riff raff subversives were the worthy protagonists.
So for marketing, am I going to just cross my fingers and hope that FB isn't being evil on the afternoon I decide to launch a campaign?
Now please pardon me while I go post a link to this editorial on Facebook.
Cheers, and have a fine day/evening wherever you happen to live!
July 11th, 2014,
Wolfville, Nova Scotia.