Island Morning shouldn’t run a Facebook contest

Our local CBC Radio One morning show, Island Morning, ran a contest this week where listeners were encouraged to join the show’s Facebook group. Of the first 100 listeners to do so, ten were selected at random to receive a prize package of a 2GB USB memory key and a pad and pen set.

If Island Morning had a contest where listeners were encouraged to join the Shoppers Drug Mart Optimum program, or the Canadian Tire Auto Club, or Air Canada Aeroplan we would all be aghast at the commercial activities of a public broadcaster.

And yet, by encouraging listeners to join a Facebook group, Island Morning is engaging in exactly this sort of activity.

Facebook may appear to be a benign public resource, like the public library. But it’s not. It’s a commercial entity that exists fundamentally to harvest psychographic data about its users which it then rents out to advertisers to allow them to market to thinly-sliced psychographic groups. Facebook doesn’t hide this fact: it’s right there, albeit wrapped in “we’re only trying to help”-style language, in their privacy policy:

Facebook may use information in your profile without identifying you as an individual to third parties. We do this for purposes such as aggregating how many people in a network like a band or movie and personalizing advertisements and promotions so that we can provide you Facebook. We believe this benefits you. You can know more about the world around you and, where there are advertisements, they’re more likely to be interesting to you. For example, if you put a favorite movie in your profile, we might serve you an advertisement highlighting a screening of a similar one in your town. But we don’t tell the movie company who you are.

When an Island Morning listener joins the Island Morning Facebook group, they are contributing a part of a psychographic puzzle to Facebook that can then be combined with other information to more finely profile them.

This conceptual bedrock of Facebook is not fundamentally different from the bedrock underlying loyalty programs like Shoppers Drug Mart Optimum: it’s all about harvesting data about consumer behaviour which is then used to target them with finely-tuned marketing messages. Except that while Shoppers may only know that I buy toilet paper and condoms three times a week, Facebook, because it operates under the guise of a sort of safe “gated Internet community,” elicits data on a much more profound and personal level: who I’m friends with, what music I listen to, how I’m feeling. And, now, what radio programs I listen to.

Surely this is something the CBC, as a public broadcaster, should not be aiding and abetting. Indeed if the CBC should be doing anything it’s awakening listeners to the complex often-obscured commercial nature of online sites and the implications on our civil liberties that feeding these services with the minutiae of our lives has.


Andrew MacPherson's picture
Andrew MacPherson on November 7, 2008 - 20:43 Permalink

Agreed and CBC should remember its public role.

That said especially early on CBC did do some of that kind of reporting facebook. Also one wonders though if there is simply too much information about everyone for facebook to really do that much with. Ads are much more pervasive on myspace, yahoo and google for example. I recall your experiment with “Charlottetown liberals” not generating much traffic to your site.

Ken's picture
Ken on November 8, 2008 - 14:44 Permalink

Shoppers Drug Mart Optimum Points Club is not a fad, at least at the moment of writing this. CBC probably promoted the Rubik’s Cube and at one time encouraged listeners to purchase stamps from Canada Post for their self addressed envelopes. Remember the philatelic fads of the post Trudeau era?

Stephen Pate's picture
Stephen Pate on November 9, 2008 - 04:42 Permalink

Interesting point. Another interesting thing is the closed site Island Morning is running. Unlike most fan sites, they don’t allow any postings, comments, nothing…just Mother CBC feeding us their view of the world. On the Internet that is fascist at best.

Kevin's picture
Kevin on November 9, 2008 - 17:30 Permalink

They have the odd fault Steve, granted, but “fascist”?

There has been an explosion of media in the past few years (not so much the Internet itself, but what folks are doing with it — facebook etc…). In the Charlottetown market the has also been a bunch of new radio stations with yet another about to open(C*hrist I*s O*ur G*od CIOG 91.3FM). I can see how a CBC producer is having an identity crisis and how Facebook might leak into their planning.

CBC has been trying to be as relevant to as many as it can while ignoring the real potential value of a public broadcaster which is to produce quality programming for that minority who are actually interested in quality programming and leave the rest to “discover” it or wallow in the hazy murk of commercial radio (or TV for that matter). But no, Steve, they’re not exactly fascist; they’re further from it than usual… now that there’s a Liberal government in the province their blue stripes don’t show through as easily as they used to during the fawning Binns days. I’m not saying they’re not balanced, it’s just that they seem to be able to achieve balance with a slight lean.

Stephen Pate's picture
Stephen Pate on November 10, 2008 - 21:15 Permalink

Fascist as an epithet for totalitarian, authoritariansim

Wiki — “the word fascist is intended to mean “oppressive”, “intolerant”, “chauvinist”, “genocidal”, “dictatorial”, “racist”, or “aggressive”

oliver's picture
oliver on November 11, 2008 - 22:12 Permalink

>The beauty of a word like Fascist is that it’s on the the way to nazi but not quite there.

Unfortunately even Nazism is on the way to socialism, as are health insurance and summer camp, so where does that leave us? It should go without saying that if people are likely to hear a word as intending something you don’t mean and instead as something that makes their blood boil, best to deploy it only with great care, if at all. It’s never a sure thing trying to implicitly comment on language and history while asking somebody for the salt.

Pierre Doiron's picture
Pierre Doiron on November 21, 2008 - 04:08 Permalink

I agree. I have even put the facebook domain or anything emailed to me with the domain “facebook” whatever on it on my blocked senders lists. I have seen samples of facebook accounts and to put it simply, “Who is the hell cares if “so-and-so” is “such-and-such” today. Soap operas are bad enough on TV. Keep them the “hell off the internet”! MSN Messenger is a nice and simple way to keep in touch with people you know. To me it’s simply a waste of time to send a facebook message on some other email address, then you have to go another step to get into facebook. SOAP OPERA par excellence a la technical ‘ting.

Stephen Pate's picture
Stephen Pate on November 22, 2008 - 23:23 Permalink

I predict the fascination with all things Facebook is waning and I’ve been addicted to it myself.

First, they are clamping down of group emails. Try sending more than a couple of hundred and you will get warned or cut-off. They cut off the open mike at the Seahorse, an advocate I know in Edmonton and I got warned 2 weeks ago. That’s after they encouraged all the users to suck in their email addresses without recourse.

Secondly, the word on the street is their failure to monetize the site has left them dangerously short of cash. One story has them traveling to the Middle East for money in the first week of November. Money is hard to borrow these days. Desperate men do desperate things. Google it.

Third, 5 of the original developers/execs bailed recently. All is not well in FB-land hence the crack down on groups which equals “buy ads help us make money”