It is clear in the current political landscape that social media plays a huge role. In fact, according to data from the Pew research center, 8 out of 10 Americans say that social media platforms are effective for raising public awareness about political issues. But what happens when organizations abuse these platforms?
In an unprecedented move, Facebook announced one of the heaviest punishments a marking firm can face. Rally Forge out of phoenix, Arizona was banned from the Social media giant for multiple infractions around using fake accounts and pages to sway political influence. All the accounts in questions were related to a conservative political group run by Charlie Kirk
Who Are Rally Forge and Turning Point USA?
Rally Forge is no small force in marketing. Started in 2016 by Jake Hoffman, they now represent several companies and nonprofits in the Phoenix area. They have become a major player in the market with annual revenues exceeding $11 Million.
According to their website Turning Point USA is a 501(c)3 organization founded by Charlie Kirk. They focus on educating and training students in freedom, free markets, and limited government. They claim to be the most organized, active, and powerful activist network in high schools and colleges across the country.
An Environment Ripe for Scandal
According to Facebook head of security, Nathaniel Gleicher, they removed 200 accounts and 55 pages on Facebook. They also remove 76 Instagram accounts as well. The question becomes how did they do it and why is it a problem.
While people make political comments on social media every day, these accounts stood out because of a few key factors. It was noted that many of the accounts were operated by teenagers in the Phoenix area. Additionally, the accounts often had cartoon like Bitmojis and seemed to oddly mirror real accounts.
More so the accounts seemed to create a perception of widespread support though commenting on posts by influential leaders and public filters. The accounts were able to pass the security of the platform because they used modified spellings of real names that went undetected at account creation.
Additionally, twitter suspended 262 accounts related to the same issue. Though neither platform has banned Turning Point USA, both platforms are continuing to investigate the issue further. Rally Forge also put out a statement that it will be working with the platforms to correct this and remove the ban.
A History of Social Media and Politics
The use of social media to sway an election is nothing new. In recent history, it was found that Russia interfered with the 2016 election through the active use of social media campaigns laced with false and extreme views about political candidates and issues
The US is not the only democracy to have dealt with this issue. In, fact it is estimated that 26 out of 30 countries had similar types of interference in their last election. It means that the social media companies are in a dire spot to reduce or remove this type of behavior from their platforms sooner than later.
What Does All of This Mean to You?
It means that in marketing we have entered a new era of ethical dilemma on how we approach social media.
The Ethical Use of Social Media
Marketers are constantly under the gun to drive more leads that will ultimately build more revenue for the company they represent. At what length will marketers go to grow accounts and generate leads?
The good news is the majority will follow platform guidelines and behave in an ethical manner to ensure they are working within the values of their brand and the brand they represent. Occasionally though you will find marketers that will step out of the straight and narrow because of an over promise or a “system” they have been shown.
What Does an Unethical Strategy Look Like?
There is no one size fits all clear answer to this question. However, there are several things business owners can look out for that are clear red flags:
- It seems too good to be true: Often you will see marketers saying things like, “I can get you 50,000 followers in 1 week” or “I sell social media accounts with 10,000 followers.” While both of these sound great the methods to achieve a huge audience, these often violate the terms and conditions of the social platform. They could ban your account while the scammer walks away with your money and prepares to do it to the next guy (or girl)
- An offer for completely free services: Recently a slew of “marketers” (I use that term loosely) have taken to Facebook professing, “I have just learned a new strategy to grow your business through Facebook ads. Before I start charging, I am looking for a business to see if I can get them results.” There are two ways to lose with this one. You provide them access to your account and they steal all your follower data and run, or they waste your money on Facebook ads that do not work.
- Fake Influencer Marketing/Influencer fraud: It is no lie that there are people making real money on social media as an influencer. The reality is that the influencers are often a fad and their audiences come and go. What you need to look at is not how many followers they have, but how many engaged followers they have. They could have 2 million followers. But if they only engage 500 then their reach means nothing in the way of conversions to sales.
Learning From the Fall of a Giant
Rally Forge shows us that despite the size of the organization, social media platforms desire to keep the peace. Additionally, they want to make sure users are behaving in an ethical manner. What is interesting though is how many advocates are on the platforms reporting issues that arise as well. Seeing the user community for the most part as engaged in keeping the platforms ethical as the platforms themselves is refreshing.
Over time tolerance for unethical behavior is becoming less and less. Some may call it censorship. However, it becomes an ethical obligation. Companies like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and TikTok must maintain safe platforms for users.
This news does not come lightly and will most likely be the center of many heated political and censorship arguments. This is not the last we will see of social media companies seeking to maintain a safe platform for the users. Are you ready for the dominoes to fall as social media platforms start holding companies more accountable?
Our team is here to help you navigate the challenges of marketing. Ask us how we maintain ethical standards while getting the best result.