Ever since I was a kid, traveling the country with my family, playing in churches and tents and store fronts, I knew about demographics.
I didn’t know what it was called. But it’s not hard for an 11-year-old to get the memo that older females (over, say, 75), usually keep candy in their purse. And if you say nice things to them, not only will they give you that candy, sometimes they will even slip you a dollar or two. After all, you remind them of their grandson when he was your age. You’re such a sweet, well-behaved young man.
That same technique, however, does not apply to females under the age of 5. They have no clue what’s going on in the world and if you take their candy, suddenly terms like “thief” and “bully” get thrown around.
So you learn to disregard the 5-year-olds and concentrate your efforts on those around 70 years older. It’s called target marketing. And literally EVERYBODY does it.
If you sell tractor supplies, you don’t do it in the inner city. If you sell high-end jewelry, you don’t set up shop near blue collar neighborhoods. You don’t advertise catheters or tax lawyer firms on MTV or the Disney Channel. All of this is basic common sense. Or is it?
Since the advent of the internet, people in my industry have been trying to get more and more information on who buys our product. If you’ve ever put your email on a list at a concert, or been a Nielsen ratings family, then you’ve been targeted for products. Even when you haven’t expressly given your permission to have your information used, just tuning in to a football game or a certain program on a certain night, has been information that advertisers, programers and political campaigns have all bought and sold for decades.
Trust me, they know who you are. They know where you live. And they know you want more cheese on your pizza, a closer shave and if you favor higher or lower taxes. You’re not special. You are a target audience.
Enter Facebook …
Never in the history of the world, have humans volunteered more information about themselves than now. We want to be known. We want to make noise in the world. We want to shout our truth. But it seems that when that information changes hands for a price, we want it all to stop. The fact that we post pictures of our steaks and then are freaked out to see advertisements for steaks in our newsfeed (the next day), is the mark of a society that doesn’t want to be honest with itself …about itself. Yes, they are watching you. I am watching you. You are watching me. We are all watching each other.
Yesterday, I watched some of the Mark Zuckerberg hearings on Capital Hill. But it was all too boring and frustrating. It reminded me of pro baseball/steroid hearings. It felt like a waste of my tax dollars. This little Millennial punk started a website called FACEBOOK, because it was designed to rank …wait for it …FACES. It was all a college ploy to look at and objectify girls on campus. And now the kid is under investigation for trading in the information volunteered on that site.
I can’t help thinking that at the heart of this is the ever-present elephant in the room; that the only reason any of this is being taken seriously is because of one guy …Trump. The wrong guy won the election and there are people in the world who simply cannot have that. So we hear phrases like “tampering with” and “trying to influence an election.” Well, guess what folks? If you post anything political on your wall, YOU are trying to influence the outcome of an election. Every time Bruce Springsteen sings Born To Run at an event for a candidate, he’s trying to influence an election. The fact is, we are always trying to influence elections all the time. It’s called campaigning.
Now, I know we’re talking about the Russians tampering with things and trying to affect an election and putting out false news stories, etc. I get it. Nobody wants that. I didn’t like it when Dan Rather did it and I don’t like it now. But then again, is it illegal for Russian citizens to post things on Facebook in order to “influence” an election? If I blogged about how we need to press for a leadership change in Russia, would I be guilty of a crime? Would I be “trying to influence” a Russian election? These are the questions that keep me up at night.
I’m no Mark Zuckerberg fan. I don’t have time for kids half my age who have more money and power than I’ll ever even see from a distance, but I’m still not sure what he was doing on Capital Hill and I’m not sure why he looked so scared. If I were him I would’ve said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I run a social media platform. You can join for free. Nobody is forcing you to get on it. Nobody is forcing you to talk about your likes or dislikes on it. But if you think we’re going to have all that information at our fingertips and just do nothing with it, then you don’t know how business works. Oh wait …you’re in the government …you know exactly how it works …except you take the information by force and use it anyway you see fit. Never mind …have a nice day” and I would’ve gotten up and walked out.
On balance, social media is an amazing technology that brings people together from all over the world. It helps us curate our lives. It helps us find people we would’ve never found. As the father of someone with a rare genetic disorder, I can tell you it has been absolutely miraculous in its ability to help disseminate vital information to our global community. And as a creator and performer I have unprecedented access to people all over the world who might still be interested in something I have to offer …long after the standard delivery machines have lost interest in me.
I hope we don’t mess up all the good that has come from these platforms with stupid government regulations that just tie hands and make everything less sleek and less innovative.
Because getting candy from an old lady is a lot cooler than taking candy from a baby. And I think it’s okay for everyone to know that.
I didn’t watch Zuckerberg’s testimony today. But it’s okay …I’m sure I’ll read about it on Facebook.