From time to time I receive messages via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, or other social media asking me to vote for someone’s project so that it can “win” an award or a competition of some sort. I find it mildly dishonest, at least on an intellectual level, to vote for a project I know nothing about, often from a person I have never heard of, especially when I do not know what the competition is. Even if I do know the person, maybe there’s a project I would like better, so why should I vote for something without reviewing all of the entries and knowing what I’m voting for?
I assume that there are people who will vote for anything they are asked to vote for, whether they’ve experienced it or not, whether they know the context or not, simply because they were asked to do so. At best this is an innocent, though debased, form of social interaction in the digital world. If extrapolated into the world of politics, however, the implications become downright frightening.
I know many people automatically vote for the politician whose name they’ve seen most often on posters and TV, asking everyone to vote for them, never having looked at the qualifications and platforms of any of the candidates. Other people vote for whomever their authority figures recommend, still knowing nothing at all about what they’re voting for or against. I’m not sure if the social media get-out-the-vote popularity contest (and the fact that it seems to work) is simply a reflection of the passivity and laziness that people have always indulged in, or whether it’s a new mode of operation that will further foster ignorance when it comes to voting for real issues, not someone’s Etsy store that sells overpriced dog collars decorated with hand-painted macaroni.
For artists and businesses, is building superficial popularity through “likes” and votes the equivalent of political movements building credibility simply through the amount of money raised? I know requests for “likes” work on the assumption that “like” begets “like”, which it sometimes does, but often those solicited “likes” are meaningless, unlike bartering a chicken for a newspaper subscription as they are doing in the old print on the right. So far I have refrained from asking people outright to “like” my website, so can be fairly confident that all of the “likes” are actually genuine.
Recently, however, I tried the experiment of mounting a Facebook offer in which people who “liked” my page could receive a free sample of Salamanca, which is about to be re-released. Interestingly, when I tried to set up the offer, which is supposed to be free, Facebook tried their best to charge me a considerable amount of money for “advertising”. This happened when I got a message saying that I wasn’t finished setting up my offer. When I clicked “continue” I was taken to an ad order page. Sneaky! It turns out that the offer was set up already and working, so their misleading tactics didn’t work on me.
I’ve read that Facebook ads are pretty much worthless anyway, given that approximately 25-80% of clicks are bot-generated, depending on whose account you read. There are certainly a lot of bot services out there that will generate “likes” for your Instagram page, YouTube video, Facebook page, or just about any form of social media. If you’re willing to pay them, they’ll produce thousands of “likes”. In any case, it seems ridiculous to assume that Facebook ads could target anyone in the real audience that I’m trying to reach.
The other interesting phenomenon is that more people claimed the offer than “liked” my page. I’m not sure what to make of that, but assume that there was a misunderstanding and people “liked” the offer instead of the page. Or maybe people who had already “liked” the page claimed the offer. It’s not a big deal, because I don’t mind sending out a few extra free samples, it’s just one more puzzling thing about Facebook. I suspect that my blog and newsletter reach more real people than Facebook.
As a final coda to this post, I’ll mention that this morning as I was reading the newspaper, an ad came on with a “like” button in the upper right corner where the “hide” button usually is. I almost hit it reflexively, but fortunately checked myself in time. I’m sure that whatever company it was advertising got some accidental “likes” that way, by people who wanted to X out their ad. Just goes to show you how hard it is to know what’s real in the virtual world.
[All images adapted from Wikimedia]
[All images adapted from Wikimedia]