Leveling the Playing Field in Public Sector Digital Communications

If you convince the whole world that eating 2 pounds of sugar a day is good for their health and you are the company selling sugar…. That is great for your company, you make more money, the marketing department gets a promotion. But it doesn’t make it right for the people eating the sugar, and eventually the people have to push back and say,

“Why are we all dying so you make more money?”

If you convince millions of people that there is no consensus about the man-made role in climate change, and that even though there is clear evidence of mass extension events in Earth’s history there is no reason to believe it could happen to us again right here in this century… That might be good for your fossil fuel business, you will build more spilling pipelines and pay off more politicians. But at some point people have asked,

“Why do we all have to die so you can make more money?”

Except the People are not hearing the People. And special interests with deep pockets and seemingly endless resources are winning communications battles before we even get on the field.

How can we level the playing field?

There is a need for a reset of digital communications in the progressive public sector. Full stop. Issues like climate change, immigration, government representative of the people, labor unions, healthcare, all those disenfranchised Trump voters who are not getting a fair shake at the American dream — — these are “communications failures”.

For those of us in the business of advertising, marketing and public relations we can see what is happening in plain sight. There is a one-sided manipulation of large masses of people that hurts the very people marketed to and helps the entities behind the marketers get more money and more power. This effort has been magnified and amplified exponentially between 2014 and 2018 as social media platforms have improved our ability to target, reach and influence individual citizens. During these recent years the ability to “digitally narrowcast” has eclipsed the established broadcast strategies to great success.

Conveyor Belts of Manipulative Misinformation
“By combining psychographic profiling, analysis of big data and ad micro-targeting, public discourse in the U.S. has entered a new era. What used to be a public exchange of information and democratic dialogue is now a customized whisper campaign: Groups both ethical and malicious can divide Americans, whispering into the ear of each and every user, nudging them based on their fears and encouraging them to whisper to others who share those fears.” 1

“Far from being a conduit for considered opinions by an educated [electorate], social-media platforms spread misinformation and inflame partisan differences. People on Facebook and Twitter are more likely to share inflammatory posts that appeal to emotion than intricate arguments based on reason.”

“The passions, hyper-partisanship, and split-second decision making that [James] Madison feared from large, concentrated groups meeting face-to-face have proved to be even more dangerous from exponentially larger, dispersed groups that meet online.”

And yet, “the internet has also made American democracy more inclusive than it was in the Founders’ day, amplifying the voices of women, minorities, and other disadvantaged groups they excluded.” 2

If we want to avoid suicide by stupidity as a species on Earth, we need to learn how to communicate better between large audiences of humans in a digitally connected world, with the objective of bursting echo chambers. We need to fight back against those who have already mastered the new digital tools and are using them to divide and confuse the population for self serving purposes. (certainly in ways that represent special interests and corporations over the People)

Because it is no longer a question of selling more boxes of candy which only leads to bad health for individuals. The outcomes of digital narrowcasting for political power are clearly linked to the life and death of all living things, of our ecosystem, of our entire civilization and the organic systems on planet Earth that support us.

By not mounting a counter-response, progressives are abdicating the beliefs, perceptions and votes of millions of U.S. citizens to somebody else. The powers who are leveraging digital narrowcasting right now are basically in an uncontested landgrab for hearts and minds.

We need to play dirty.

The time has come to fight back by building a “communications cannon”. We want to slam these fossil fuel and well-funded misinformation campaigns with a never ending juggernaut of truthful content that buries their lies in an ocean of digital reality. We have the tools available to unleash a cleansing wave against propaganda and a bridge between echo chambers. We can counter-act media polarization “which has allowed geographically dispersed citizens to isolate themselves into virtual factions, communicating only with like-minded individuals and reinforcing shared beliefs.” 2

If we want to be able to hear each other above the noise of the special interests and corporations we have to get as good at advertising as they are. Facebook is just doing what everybody asked them to do.

The industry that pays Facebook delivered a clear objective: help us reach more people with more persuasive messages that have been individually tested and customized to be more likely to drive a desired action or belief in the recipient.

It’s just good advertising! Except that convincing people to ignore the health of our planet has consequences far more destructive than influencing us on what ice cream flavor to buy.

The personalized digital communications strategies being used to damage the the work of the Founding Fathers can be countered.

“We have to address some of the structural barriers to progressive power in this country … because we know policy isn’t what decides elections; that’s not how most voters make decisions.” –DavidFaris, It’s Time to Fight Dirty. 3

We can complain about what is happening, or we can step on to the communications battle field, pick up the biggest guns we can find and fight back.

NOTES:

  1. https://theconversation.com/facebook-is-killing-democracy-with-its-personality-profiling-data-93611
  2. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/10/james-madison-mob-rule/568351/
  3. https://www.vox.com/2018/5/1/17258866/democratic-party-supreme-court-republicans-trump-election