Disinformation Campaigns


John Gruber:

I really feel as a culture we are barely coming to grips with the power of YouTube, Facebook, and to some degree, Twitter, as means of spreading mass-market disinformation. The pre-internet era of TV, print, and radio was far from a panacea. But it just wasn’t feasible in those days for a disinformation campaign — whether from crackpots who believe the nonsense, corporate industry groups, or foreign governments — to get in front of the eyes of millions of people.

It feels like something out of a Kurt Vonnegut novel that this is not only the state we’re in today, but that big name mass market advertisers are running commercials on this stuff.

citing this article by Alex Hern in The Guardian:

The group found that more than 100 brands had adverts running on YouTube videos on the site that were actively promoting climate misinformation. The brands, including Samsung, L’Oreal and Decathlon, were unaware that their adverts were being played before and during the videos.

So. Companies buy ads, as they do. They let The Algorithm™ decide who gets to see the ads - and The Algorithm™ has one job - maximize revenue. It doesn’t care about ethics, or accuracy, or branding. All it cares about is “how can I get this ad in front of the most people, who are most likely to click on it so we can charge the advertiser more?". It doesn’t care if that means “show this ad to climate change deniers because they’re likely to click on it” or “hey - nazis kind of like clicking on stuff and they don’t really stop to think about the ethics of stuff, so here we go!”

The Olden Days of advertising, where a company had to spend a fortune on a big media buy on a national TV channel, or a national chain of newspapers, or give up on reach and spend less to hit a local market instead, made it difficult for these kinds of “markets” to be targetted - there was no way to push advertising to “climate change deniers” or “nazis” without, well, being explicit about it and settling for the niche. Now, advertisers can just say “hey - show this to as many people as possible” and The Algorithm™ does the dirty work. And there is no broad visibility on who gets to see it - nobody’s carrying around Nazi Gentleman’s Quarterly, they’re just logging into Facebook and YouTube and Twitter and seeing their own personal version of the world (including targetted advertising).

Dystopian hellscape, with no visibility or transparency or awareness of how this stuff works and what it’s doing to society.


See Also