Ad Hominem #5

Don't target me, bro...

Welcome back to Ad Hominem, a newsletter about the changing nature of AdTech, surveillance capitalism, and the privacy issues that face every individual in the modern marketplace. If you’ve been forwarded this email from a friend, you can read other issues and sign up here.


One of the factors that has shaped our current political climate and which continues to dangerously steer reality has been the invention of targeted and personalized advertising, which has exploded over only a few recent years. In the monologue from a recent episode of his excellent podcast, Team Human, Douglas Rushkoff does a great job of outlining how and why we all actually experience different versions of reality as a result of this targeted ad world. [Recommended listen]

Facebook has been central to this new means of advertising and our perception of its harms, though they are by no means the only actor in the space. Scandals like Cambridge Analytica have begun a popular awakening to the reality of the danger posed by personalized advertising. While they are guilty of much wrongdoing, the social network is beginning to respond to scrutiny and criticism by updating its policy on manipulated media and adding better tools for visibility and control of political ads on its platform.

It’s important to remember that while “the network” enables bad actors, we need to place the blame on the bad actors themselves. This piece from Vox describes Steve Bannon’s strategy of misinformation and social confusion via the media. It’s partly the structure of our modern networks that allows a strategy like this to be so effective, but propaganda is not itself a new idea. We can solve for problems in our tech stack all we want, but enabling malicious political actors will always be a more important problem.


Small Bites of News:


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— Sam