While it was a lifetime or two ago, I learned a ton while doing my MBA. With all the noise around Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, I am reminded of one of the “ah-ha moments” from marketing classes. In short, marketing was all about gaining and using information to get customers to buy your product or service. Focus Groups. Surveys. Rewards Programs. That was the one that threw this naive 20 something and had me paying attention…Rewards Programs? Yes, rewards programs were created to track the customers buying patterns. They were not created to “reward” me with rebates and coupons, they were there to get me to give them information – what I bought, how much, how often, etc. In 1996 this was amazing news to me. It opened an entirely new world of data and behavior, tracking and positioning. I have never forgotten what I learned and it changed how I viewed the world.
Today we see Mark Zuckerberg being publicly “questioned” by members of Congress. Optically it is clumsy at best, and often looks like a parent or grandparent feebly grasping at a generation and a world that has left them behind. It is just bad. It is bad for Facebook, it has to be wildly frustrating and trying for Mark Zuckerberg, it is certainly bad for Congress (heaven knows they do not need any help looking inept) and in the end it is bad for us as taxpayers. How much money is being spent on this bit of theater? And then the money that will be spent to enact laws and regulations, for studies and reports, hearings and findings. However, what I find myself thinking as the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica saga unfolds is another of those clichés I so love, “live by the sword, die by the sword”.
Professionally and personally I am indifferent when it comes to social media. It is simply another “thing” that is part of the world. It has a purpose and a place, but I view it much as I view a hammer, a phone, a wrench or a vehicle. It is a tool. I use it as I need it, but am neither emotionally nor financially attached. And much like anything and everything in this world, it can be used for good and for bad. It is a tool. The tool does nothing. The user does everything.
Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg have been open from the beginning about what they do and how they make money. Facebook created a platform to share information. Simple. Note the word share; Facebook never took anything, it received everything. Much like “rewards programs”, “rebate offers” or the “first one is free”, Facebook was about gathering information and then using said information to drive revenue. Users give, Facebook takes. Facebook then sells what users gave. Plain, simple, and direct.
People wanted a platform to share their stories, their lives, their photos, their likes, their dislikes, their frustrations, their loves, and yes their secrets. Social media has brought families closer, it has made the world smaller, it has enhanced cross cultural understanding, it has bridged the generational gap, it has opened minds. It has also served as an echo chamber, a source of vindication and reinforcement for troubled souls the world over and been used to intimidate, bully and harm. Above all, social media is a tool. An unimaginably powerful tool that is used to shape and manipulate behavior, for both good and ill. Sharing information of any sort is a choice. And with all choices come consequences, and there in lies the cliché. People want an open, sharing world, they will live in an open and sharing world. The information you share can and will be used. Live by the sword, die by the sword.
In the spirit of irony, that cliché, like many, has its roots in The Bible. Matthew 26:52 if anyone is interested. The Bible and the Ancient Greeks are almost always the original source. Funny how that works.