I hope you're keeping as safe and well as possible.
Is there a link between the armed insurrection at the US Capitol on 6 Jan and the advertising ecosystem that funds social media (and pretty much everything else on the internet)? Jake Dubbins, co-chair of the Conscious Advertising Network, wrote an excellent piece on precisely this just 24 hours after the failed coup. For advertisers, the uncomfortable truth is that ad-tech and the recommendation algorithms that drive social media thrive upon extreme content, mutually reinforcing each other in the process. As Jake puts it:
“advertisers have helped fund the misinformation that stoked fires in the US Capitol”
The problem is the inherent profitability of disinformation. The short term financial interests of platforms and advertisers are served very nicely by huge quantities of inciteful or dangerous content flooding social media sites:
“This content would be dangerous enough on its own but lots of it is monetised by advertising. Yes, there is an economic model to this. Want to make some money? Well then flood the zone with s**t, switch on ads and watch the money roll in.”
Jake concludes by challenging advertisers to ask themselves honestly whether they know for certain that their ads are not financing hateful sites or hateful content. I would argue that the only sure-fire way to achieve this is for a wholesale rejection of ‘behavioural’ advertising altogether, which would be the simplest way of achieving our aim of stopping targeted advertising to kids. Social media platforms take action
Social media platforms take action
Twitter, Facebook and others eventually banned Trump from their platforms for his role in inciting the angry mob on 6 January. I think many are reluctant to heap too much praise on these platforms given they took the decision days before the end of the Trump presidency and before they in effect got a new boss in Joe Biden. I recommend this excellent thread exploring the topsy turvy world of who now supports regulation on Big Tech and who doesn’t.
The remaining 96% of humanity
Concern for democracy and human rights must not end at the US’s borders. While Facebook, Twitter and co eventually took steps against Trump in the name of democracy in the US, they have shown very little appetite to extend this to the rest of the world. Global Action Plan have gladly signed on to this excellent joint statement calling for tech firms to do just this. As the statement puts it:
“we are demanding that Facebook, Google, and Twitter urgently demonstrate the concern they have claimed toward democratic processes in the United States to the remaining 96% of humanity”
Please add your organisation to the statement if you support it.
Internet use and screen time increase
Studies are now emerging documenting the predictable changes in our behaviour during 2020. Time spent online has doubled and kids (4-15 yr olds in this case) visits to websites and apps was also up by 100% in January 2021 vs January 2020.
This second piece details concurrent declines in eyesight and rises in concerns about sleep, but as the article goes on to discuss, these problems are not necessarily *caused* by the screens themselves. And of course the reality of lockdowns in winter and homeschooling is that children and families have little option but to increase screen use:
“Dr Max Davie, a consultant at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said he hoped the pandemic meant we would stop talking about counting screen time and rather “start talking about the quality of interaction and whether a child is getting enough exercise, sleep and positive interactions [online]”.
He added: “We have not seen the [childhood obesity] statistics yet but people are more sedentary because they are going out less.”
However, social media is firmly in the dock for children’s declining wellbeing, according to a comprehensive study published by the Education Policy Institute and the Prince’s Trust. Looking at 11, 14 and 17 yr olds, the report found:
“Heavy use of social media is shown to negatively affect girls’ wellbeing and self-esteem at ages 14 and 17, regardless of pre-existing levels. It also negatively affects boys’ wellbeing at age 14, regardless of their previous state of mental health”
Govt <3 consumerism
Finally, a reminder of how central consumerism is to our dominant economic model. The Telegraph has reported that the Chancellor wants those homeworkers who have built up savings during the pandemic to go on a spending spree. It seems that whatever the crisis, and however bad it gets, the preferred solution is always consumerism.
The chancellor may be disappointed, however, as a recent Bank of England survey revealed that of those households who have built up savings during 2020, only 10% plan to spend them.
Ollie and the Global Action Plan Team