Sivasubramanian M on Wed, 18 Jul 2018 07:56:16 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Manipulating individuals, your wife or Jeremy Corbin, by micro-targeting Facebook ads

Dear Felix Stalder,

On Wed, Jul 18, 2018, 3:43 AM Felix Stalder <> wrote:
[Throughout the day, I was wondering whether a new service offered by a
company called "The Spinner" was real or satire. Their pitch is the

> The Spinner* is a service that enables you to control articles
> presented to your wife on the websites she usually visits, in order
> to influence her on a subconscious level to initiate sex.

This hits so many button about how toxic online ad-tech, and start-up
tech culture more generally, has become, that I was leaning towards
seeing this as satire,

I thought it is likely to be a satire, looked at the spinner webpage, didn't leave any information, but a spinner image maliciously replaced my phone's screen saver. Not sure what other controls could be optained by code, if malicious, just when someone merely clicks on a URL.

Sivasubramanian M

but then it was revealed that Labour Party
campaign also ran a campaign targeting an individual, the party leader
Jeremy Corbin (and his closest associates) trying to warp his perception
of what the party itself was doing. The whole story is below, and most
likely not satire. Felix]

Facebook ad micro-targeting can manipulate individual politicians
Anonymous Labour Party official to Tom Baldwin

Caroline Haskins
Jul—16—2018 11:42AM EST

At least one political party is avoiding negotiating by using
micro-targeted Facebook ads focused on just the politician and their
inner circle, and the same tool could be used to manipulate people with
major influence on public opinion. During the 2017 U.K. general
elections, Jeremy Corbyn, the incumbent 69-year-old leader of the Labour
Party, wanted to invest heavily in digital ads encouraging voter
registration. Labour Party campaign chiefs thought it was a waste of
money and so decided to trick the incumbent leader of their own party.

They spent £5,000 on voter registration Facebook ads that met Corbyn’s
demands, but here’s the catch: only Corbyn and his associates could see
them. According to a forthcoming book from Tom Baldwin, a former Labour
communications director, they were individually-targeted, hyper-specific
ads made possible through Facebook’s advertising tools, reports The
Times and The Independent. “If it was there for them [Corbyn and his
associates], they thought it must be there for everyone,” an unnamed
Labour Party official said to Baldwin. “It wasn’t. That’s how targeted
ads can work.”

Using Facebook’s Custom Audience advertising tool, businesses and
campaigns can “sniper target” people by individually submitting
information that matches Facebook profiles — like names, email
addresses, phone numbers, date of birth, and gender. The tool cannot
target down to a literal individual and requires at least a couple dozen
people for a campaign to run.

Since a number of political situations have unfolded in the last couple
of years that, in retrospect, were heavily influenced by Facebook, the
company started a political ad archive and significantly raised the bar
on what it will approve as a political ad. But it put these measures in
place only a few weeks ago, and it’s limited to ads targeting areas in
the U.S., meaning that we don’t currently have a side-by-side comparison
of what ads Corbyn and his inner circle were served as opposed to the
general public. The book, Ctrl Alt Delete: How Politics and the Media
Crashed Our Democracy, purports to provide specific examples of what
Corbyn would have seen.

On one hand, this is a strange story about how a baby boomer politician
and his closest political buddies did not know what ads were being
served on behalf of their own campaign. (Granted, the structure of the
U.K. government means that party elections have astronomically low
financial stakes. £4.3 million was spent across all U.K. political
parties for the 2017 election; compare that to the $10 billion
advertising price tag for the 2016 U.S. presidential election.) But more
importantly, it illustrates how Facebook’s “sniper targeting”
advertising tools can be used to infiltrate the thoughts of major public
figures and their closest allies, and in a successful scenario,
manipulate their thinking. As of May, Facebook has new thresholds for
political ads, which broadly includes anything related to a candidate,
election, vote, legislative issue. But anything that doesn’t fit into
that definition of “political” will remain relatively unregulated.
Clearly, this has huge implications for businesses and companies
struggling with internal division.

Or, say one has the email addresses and phone numbers of Donald Trump
Jr. and a few of his buddies ( Don Junior is
extremely active on social media and frequently likes and interacts with
targeted ads. If one wanted to get a message to Don, a Custom Audience
and some carefully-chosen text over a picture of a luxury yacht or
smoked piece of meat would do the trick. (These are, to the best of our
knowledge, real Instagram ad interests of Donald Trump Junior, as
unveiled by a Slate investigation.)

This is a facetious example, but the tool could be used to generate real
harm if put into the hands of people with the power to spread conspiracy
theories, such as Alex Jones or Roseanne Barr. Anyone with a penchant
for chaos could sow the seed of a dangerous disinformation campaign just
by getting information of powerful public figures and a few associates
that’s linked to their Facebook accounts.


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