Media Audiences: The data behind our social media usage

As citizens of the 21st century, social media plays a prominent role in our everyday lives, it is a prime communication method we use to engage with friends, colleagues and acquaintances from close to home or on the other side of the world.

Our use of social media and the internet in general offers us limitless possibilities on what we can do online, and with modern day technology, we often think the security of our online presence is impenetrable with the countless passwords and security questions our favourite social media sites force us to link to our account. And while the average person will rarely experience any kind of account security failure, our privacy is still constantly being breached online and with our prominent role as an active media audience who also participates in the creation of media content, this is a significantly important issue.

The average internet user may or may not be familiar with the term ‘big data‘, and whilst it sounds like complex I.T nonsense that many would think is irrelevant to them, the issue of big data is quite important to the average person and their use of the internet and social media.

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Big data refers to the data that is constantly being collected during our ongoing use of the internet. This includes the websites you visit, the latest trends that you follow and the specific web searches you make. This big data is collected by various algorithms that are used to find out details about specific users.

Okay, so it still sounds like complex I.T riff raff. So how do we make sense of “big data” and how can it be an issue to the average person and their use of the internet and social media? well recent research can help us make sense of this, an article written by Motherboard reporters Hannes Grassegger & Mikael Krogerus on January 29th showed how little things such as Facebook likes collected as big data were influential in the controversial 2016 U.S election. A big data focused digital marketing company ‘Cambridge Analytica‘, were hired by Trump during the recent election and Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix stated “Pretty much every message that Trump put out was data driven” (Nixon, in text quote from article). Cambridge Analytica enabled team Trump the ability to target individuals online based off specific demographics and ‘digital footprints‘ with different political messages, such as relaying pro-republican party campaigns to users whose data identified them as Trump supporters, or in contrast, directing posts to Hillary Clinton voters that were designed to keep them from voting for her.

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In conclusion, the traces we leave of ourselves online just by simply using the internet can be factors in issues too great for us to even comprehend, does this feel like our privacy is being breached? who else can access this “big data”? and with our role as the audience in various media issues is this issue of data collection more significant than ever? let me your opinions on this topic by leaving a comment below, or interact with me on twitter @alexm4stro.

Reference list:

Grassegger, H & Krogerus, M 2017, ‘The Data That Turned The World Upside Down’, Motherboard, 29 January, viewed 12 March, <https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/how-our-likes-helped-trump-win&gt;.

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7 thoughts on “Media Audiences: The data behind our social media usage

  1. This was really interesting. What’s more Facebook is not the only online presence that collects, uses and sells our data. One thing I learnt during a training course – Even if you don’t use a rewards card at a supermarket like ‘Woolworths’ your credit card does almost the same thing. If you use a credit card, it is given something like a ‘shadow’ account that monitors your purchases and behaviours until you decide to get a rewards card. Creepy but interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment Mara, I appreciate your further insight regarding the collection and distribution of big data, the fact that it is prevalent in many other aspects of our lives other than just using the internet is indeed interesting.

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  2. HI Alex! This is a highly interesting take on the field of ‘media audiences’. It immediately made me consider ‘social media bubbles’ or ‘political bubbles’, which are essentially just different terms for the big data marketing that you mentioned, although it is perhaps a less intentional anomaly in the code of websites such as facebook, as opposed to direct manipulation by a corporation. Although Mark Zuckerberg denied the operation of these bubbles, it’s also interesting to note the measures that facebook have begun to implement to combat instances of ‘media bubbles’ and ‘fake news’. Finally, as you mention, it is an interesting and scary scenario if we are as thoroughly ‘traced’ online as it seems we are.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for commenting Josh. I was not aware of the terms ‘social media bubbles’ or ‘political bubbles’ before this, it’s certainly interesting to consider that there can be two sides of big data collection, one being literal data mining and the use of complex algorithms and the other being direct manipulation by corporations as you stated above. Thank you for your further engagement on this issue.

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  3. You made a great post. I like how you explained about our privacy being leaked and taken by the big data. Media audience is a vast topic to cover and you picked the perfect that is associated with present world and for students like us knowing such facts and details is very important. You had a good knowledge on what you were bloging that makes this post an interesting and knowledgeable post .

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Alex. I really enjoyed how you focused on the media audiences own usage and then link your example of Donald trump. Its rather geniuses to analyse peoples own likes an interest then create propaganda around their likes. Though It raises the question how much data do they control? Even though we have numerous passwords to protect ourselves as you have said. The fact that they understand our likes and interest, questions how much privacy do we have as media audiences. Do you think there should be a middle ground? Where we can decide to release our information or not.

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