Revisionist history says that the internet was once an innocent land of wonder and possibility dreamed up by Al Gore. Maybe. My internet life began at age 11 in 1999, and it has always been deplorable. Decapitations and mutilations on rotten.com. 4chan in its relative infancy. I’ve been a near daily visitor to Stormfront for the last 15 years, and I've prowled the dark web for the last decade. Today, there are kids shockingly pissed off that the olds are letting the youths get shot in schools, and an entire swathe of America has decided that these kids are paid fucking actors. I've watched the underbelly of the internet go from true fringe to not so fringe, which might be why I haven't been the least bit surprised by, well, any of 2016-now.
And so it goes. The internet is a cesspool. Yet this seems to be a recent revelation, particularly to the world of advertising. But we are largely at fault. Not long ago, we discovered that YouTube is messing with our kids, with an algorithm optimized for performance - consumption - and AI-generated content optimized to that algorithm debasing the content created for children to the point that it's surely harming them. Weird, colorful, violent cartoon drivel to hypnotize our most vulnerable. The alt-right lived in the shadows (and now maybe the light) of the internet, sharing memes and truther conspiracy theories so detached from logic and reality that they've created their own.
The ad world is right in line. Facebook, Youtube, and the like have optimized and monetized to engagement and user count, which have lent these platforms directly to this type of bifurcated existence. It's currently far, far easier to create and deploy bots on Facebook and Twitter than it is to prove and delete them. There are multiple internets, and multiple truths. No truths, really. And, by definition, no true internet.
Recently, the ad world has started to speak out against this. It's likely in no small part because brands have begun to extract dollars from shit digital ads. P&G, for example, just pulled another $400 million out of digital advertising. By profit or virtue, the ad world has a uniquely powerful bead on Facebook, Google, and the like, supplying upwards of 80% of their revenue. And there's the rub. We have a duty to basic human decency to be basically decent humans. We are in a powerful position to band together (intentionally or not) and force these platforms' hands. Zucks may have no idea how to wrangle the beast that he created in order to spot pretty coeds at Harvard, but we can choke its dollar blood supply and refuse to feed it.
What am I suggesting? Act more human. We’ve gone the opposite direction in advertising. We try to act more automated; we automate ad placements and try to teach AI to seem human so we don’t have to. It'd be fine if it wasn't soulless, and if it wasn't damaging what it is to be human. There's something real at stake, and I think that might be a serious underlying issue. There are plenty of agencies and brands pumping out ads and placements that they don't think matter but won't do harm. As isolated cases, they're right. But in the aggregate, they've been pushed aside by vitriol and truly bullshit ideas that get clicks from scared, lonely people. That's bad.
I don't doubt that I'm not punching high enough up the food chain. It's hard to blame brands for the fact that people adhere to horrifically racist, xenophobic, and nearly insane belief systems that rely on completely separate realities. But they definitely don't help.
Quite frankly, this entire blog doesn't matter. I don't matter. But if you read it and you happen to agree, then we're in this together. Share the sentiment with someone up the food chain. We have a social and moral duty to not add to the clutter. The internet is filled with garbage. Some of that garbage is advertising; most of that advertising is garbage. I can do my part. What if your brand is the one to further build its brand by stating unequivocally that it won't support Facebook's ad network run amok (algorithm change be damned)? I'm just saying.
Make shit that isn’t shit, and place it on sites and platforms that aren’t filled with other shit, and aren’t shit themselves. This doesn’t seem hard. The programmatic race to the bottom reveals a lot of terrible places to run your ads for the sale of cheap [bot] clicks. Don’t do that.