"Ford Nation" vs. "Left Wing Pinkos": Filter Bubble Living
It seems these days everyone lives in their own filter bubble - where we all pick teams and then pick our facts accordingly. If you’re not quite sure what I mean try this. Recently a poll showed that 45% of people living in Toronto believe the Rob Ford crack video is a hoax. Meaning almost half of our city believes three different reporters are either in on some conspiracy or were fooled by CGI masterminds/drug dealers.Ford’s followers call themselves “Ford Nation” and many people expected with recent events that “Ford Nation” would become “Ford Escape”. So far the numbers haven’t agreed.
Ford Nation of course would tell you that this scandal is being treated like some sort of news junkie snuff film by the left. And if you spend 10 minutes on twitter progressives don’t do ourselves a lot of favours in this department.
Us lefties sit patiently on twitter typing away to the Rob & Doug Ford Radio Show as if we were reporting back to the allies on the D-Day invasion. Honestly. livetweeting a radio show is like a couple spending the next morning transcribing their Sextape through txt message.
The extent of our filter bubble in Toronto has been interesting and well… actually, just watch.
But, just wait.. it gets dumber.
This filter bubble concept is all old hat - if you’re new to the concept, you may be living in one yourself or haven’t had cable since 1990. America does filter bubble like a fine art - if there was an award for sticking with your political team no matter what - well they’d probably be up on the podium thanking god. For a visual example of what we mean - watch this.
The irony of all this is that media “filter bubble analysis” is usually done by people who are also in a filter bubble.
So how did we get here? Well you could always argue human nature, but there are a few more things in play.
Here’s a great observation of marketing blunders made recently by Allan Gregg about our recent influx of political attack ads.
If negative advertising is so effective, maybe the media and politicians should ask themselves why other big advertisers (who are far more experienced and savvy) do not employ these same tactics. Just like the electoral process, it is safe to assume that McDonald’s wants to take market share from Burger King. They also know that the quickest and most immediate way of doing this would be to launch an ad campaign that claimed their competitor’s product contained botulism. Burger King could neutralize McDonald’s advantage by countering that Big Macs are rife with e-coli. This attack and counterattack might “work” to the extent that it would affect market share but it is not employed by McDonald’s and Burger King because they know it will destroy the category and pretty soon no one would ever buy a hamburger again. In other words, they are smart enough to know that the business they are in is not just about taking market share from the other guy … it’s about making consumers believe in eating hamburgers.
Sadly, the Marketing and PR convention wisdom is to make sure your believers know your burger doesn’t have e-coli or sadly the other guys e-coli is worse and just spend the money to get them to the polls. Sadly that can work, as the voters in BC just realized.
The cynical answer of why it works, is the same as the motivations for putting those ads on in the first place. “The profits” in business come from having more customers – in politics the profits come from winning. To win you don’t need to bring in new customers – you just need to bring more of your customers out on one day. If McDonald’s had to face Burger King in a single day sales tally for a winner-takes-all purse of four years worth of profits - the ad war would look like this.
But let’s take Mr. Gregg’s analogy and apply it to our media situation in Toronto – one could argue McDonald’s is the Toronto Star and twitter while Burger King is Sun Media and Talk Radio. All of us inside of our bubbles, all certain that our side doesn’t have e-coli and stead fast that the other side does. Whether we believe a Millionaire from the Suburbs is a “blue collar lunchbox guy” or that an ex-Prime Minister’s son is the leader of the Middle Class; we all believe in something that may not pass the smell test to an outsider.
With journalism much like politics it’s just easier to market to people who are “mad as hell”. If you’re putting up paywalls - marketing to the masses is a scary prospect. Newspapers like the Wall Street Journal which handle a specific niche have done well. In Cable News land Fox and MSNBC have lined their pocketbooks. So it’s not all that surprising that filter bubble living will be encouraged.
This isn’t all a creepy 1984 scheme either. Many YouTubers use this same thought process when making videos - they’re looking at what grows their audience - so even those with no interest will still find a way to have a Twilight or Bieber angle in their video for world hunger. Kony 2012 any one?
What gets scary is when Journalists see their new role in the same way YouTubers do - both playing with tag words, watching the analytics and waiting for clicks.
But what’s scarier still is that’s part of the politics my generation grew up with. It doesn’t enter our critique because it’s what we recognize politics to be.
We expect them to narrow the field, so they can easily carve us up. Those who do this best become pundits and gain large salaries for weaving witty tales of their craft. All of them are influential, and a lucky few become larger than the candidate they once represented.
And now when we make films and television about politics, rarely is the hero a “Mr. Smith” but a battle of wits, won by the nerdiest backroomer. Our society is practicing hero-worship of those gerrymandering the intellect and we love the drama.
What this does for democracy however is another story, but we try not to think about it.
Sure, days after an election the media and our citizenry puts on our best Cindy-Lou Who face and pleads “Don’t you see? We have low voter turn-out… how shall we fix this?” But somehow that problem never really seems to come up until days after the next election.
Which brings me back to Allan Gregg’s column again
“If you say “politician A is a crook” often enough, it is only a matter of time before the public comes to believe that all politicians are crooks. That is what is happening now and these are the seeds that defenders of negative advertising are sewing.”
In 2013 on his own radio show Doug Ford (a politician) claimed “I hate politicians” and his side nodded and the other side laughed. The seeds have been sewn but how will we ever dig our way through the crop?