The popular understanding among those studying web-based interaction is that if you’re not paying for something, you’re being sold. This refers to the way in which “free” interfaces such as Facebook and Google are selling raw data about your usage to entities such as presidential campaigns so that they can analyze and repurpose it.
But there’s another more abstract way in which your web usage is being monetized, and that is through what scholars of media refer to as your “connectedness”. For Facebook this could be the number of friends you have, networks you are part of, likes your content receives, for twitter, re-tweets, for Instagram, likes (to go a step further even, likes per minute). Connectedness monetized is connectivity, and it is the rise of this strange obsession with your connectivity that the 2012 campaigns of both Romney and Obama exploited in a way, to essentially manipulate online users into issue-based conversation and information dissemination.
Despite concerns about the implications microtargeting through online advertising has on audience inclusion, using these platforms can also be seen as a more grassroots and fundamentally democratic process than previous methods of campaigning focused only on swing states and districts, or those with more Electoral College votes. Because the information is being shared person to person across networks in a decentralized manner, even though it often originates from each campaign camp, the urge to share and add individual comments to increase connectivity gives the messages and information a somewhat organic quality.
This networking also contributes to what Kreiss and Welch refer to as the “authenticity” of Twitter and Facebook sharing in a message’s distribution. There is something fundamentally authentic about information sharing “face to face” in a way over such platforms, similar to the way in which Neilson describes in “Ground Wars” as the Obama campaign’s scripted door to door efforts designed to initiate conversation with potential voters instead of throwing information out. Under a similar concept of appealing to the other as a person instead of a vote, sharing a candidate’s page or encouraging friends to like a page appeals to them as a person, since these platforms are so intrinsically tied to personal information, preferences, and taste.
Dijck, José Van. “Chapter 2.” The Culture of Connectivity: A Critical History of Social Media. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2013. N. pag. Print.
Kreiss, Welch. Controlling the Message in a Networked Age: Data, Strategic Communications, and the 2012 Presidential Election. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2013. 1-31.