A McLuhanist Take on Facebook Ads

28May13

Commentary: Propaganda Ends Where Dialogue Begins

Facebook

Written By Allie Schulz 

May 26, 2013

A Facebook timeline encompasses many facets of human life. Facebook is a place where we go to record events, emotions, and things we find relevant or entertaining. We can see everything unfold on Facebook- birth, death, marriage, divorce. While reading about both meaningful and not-so meaningful topics in my Facebook timeline, I came upon an advertisement that I am going to analyze, using quotes from The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore.

Facebook has become what we would consider to be a predictable space/place, yet, “Environments are invisible. Their ground-rules, pervasive structure, and overall patterns elude easy perception.” 

medium is the message

The advertisement I speak of is embedded into my Facebook news feed. It looks like a story from a friend, updating me to the fact that Full Sail University has sponsored some type of art project. It is implied that I should watch a clip regarding the project, as a YouTube video has already been embedded in the post. But upon closer look it is merely a suggested post that has found its way onto my timeline because a Facebook friend of mine has “liked” the Full Sail page.

“Propaganda ends where dialogue begins.” Posted in the midst of an ever-updating news feed that chronicles the lives of my friends and family, this ad is disguised as a friends “status update”. That’s why I find the ad so interesting- its medium! A supposed note from a friend, telling the world “look at this! I find it worthy of sharing”! The Facebook timeline, from its updates to its ads, is “uniform, continuous, and connected”, akin to McLuhan’s description of visual space, found on page 45. I bring up McLuhan’s propaganda quote because once we begin to talk about ads like these, we can first better identify them in order to avoid their snare, and second begin to find a way to either hide them or protest against them in some other way.

“It was the funeral of President Kennedy that most strongly proved the power of television to invest an occasion with the character of corporate participation.” Facebook is a myriad of occasions, constantly streamed. I’m scrolling along, reading about life events, and if I click on links like this it will mean that another site will then get my page-views. In turn, this will increase their traffic and thus validate the corporate nature of the post. Even if I just watch the embedded video, the marketing team will see my activity and know that their strategy has worked.

“Innumerable confusions and a profound feeling of despair invariably emerge in periods of great technological and cultural transitions.” Being over-connected has led to a type of electronic dependency that has stolen some of the most meaningful interactions in life. Now, events such as seeing a new baby for the first time, or hearing of an engagement are experienced through the computer screen. The advertisers play on this very yearning for our great interest in finding out about other people’s lives. 

“Electric circuitry has overthrown the regime of “time” and “space” and pours upon us instantly and continuously the concerns of all other men.” I didn’t call up a friend asking for college recommendations, or asking him about his opinion regarding Full Sail. In Fact, this friend may not even truly back Full Sail as a product/service, but may have liked their page out of some ulterior motive (win a contest/etc.). The underlying message here is that this ad has pervaded my day, it seemed timely- posted in between recent stories – and also as if it applied to me, due to it being perceived (to the untrained eye) as within “my neighborhood”.

“All media work us over completely… they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered. All media are extensions of some human faculty- psychic or physical.” The delivery of this particular Facebook ad plays on our societies emphasis on individual “authorship” and makes it look like my friend “Boston Rob” posted this story! The untrained eye might think he really wanted me to see this. Exactly what Facebook marketing executives rely on– for me to want (need) to act on my interest in connecting with others and check out this story my friend has supposedly posted. 

As we continue to see the Facebook horizon expand, we will be expanded by it. How often we are expected to share- and read about- intimate details of life will continue to grow. The Established Order will be sure to capitalize on this by sprinkling ads in-between our most significant and our most trivial shares.   http://tinyurl.com/qccceyj

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