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How U.S. political advertising, social media strategy could shape Canada's next federal election campaigns – CBC.ca

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This column is an opinion by Éric Blais, president of Headspace Marketing in Toronto. He has helped build brands for more than 35 years and is a commentator on political marketing for media such as CBC’s Power & Politics. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

The day after a recent game of chicken in the House of Commons that could have brought down the government and sent Canadians to the polls, Elections Canada declared it was ready to run a snap election during a pandemic. However, are Canada’s voters and politicians ready?

Besides being a risky political move, since many Canadians likely wouldn’t be happy about political manoeuvring resulting in an election in the midst of a public-health crisis, there are big questions around how a physically distanced election would affect campaign strategy.

Political parties are in permanent campaign mode these days, and they have already taken steps to adapt to the health requirements of different regions through things such as increased use of phone calls and online meetings. But that’s no substitute for socially-close tactics that are mainstays of political campaigns: rallies, door-to-door canvassing, shaking hands and kissing babies.

If Canada ends up with a federal election battle during the pandemic, the need to reach and engage voters, communicate party platforms and respond to attacks will likely lead to a significant increase in advertising spending. It could also mean the adoption of high-impact campaign strategies that push the limits of what’s acceptable to media providers and the voting public.

For a sign of what Canadians could be in for if there’s an election call in the coming months, look south of the border.

A New York Times analysis found that the majority of both Donald Trump’s and Joe Biden’s campaign ads were either negative or what’s called a ‘contrast ad,’ a mix of criticism of the opponent and self-promotion. (Jim Watson, Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

An analysis by the New York Times revealed that more than $1.5 billion US was spent on advertising for the presidential race alone from May 3 to Oct. 15; by contrast, $496 million was spent on ads around the presidential race by that point in the 2016 race. This astronomical increase in ad spending resulted in carpet-bombing of battleground states with, for example, close to 40 different ads for Joe Biden running in a single week in Pennsylvania alone.

Add to this the relentless micro-targeted ads on social media. Voters have never before been exposed to this much advertising from political parties during a campaign.

And it’s mostly nasty.

The same analysis found that roughly 80 per cent of the Donald Trump campaign’s ads have been either negative or what’s called a “contrast ad,” a mix of criticism of the opponent and self-promotion. Of those, 62 per cent were all-out attacks. About 60 per cent of Biden’s campaign ads were negative or contrast, with 7 per cent outright negative.

Political strategists in Canada have generally refrained from adopting the more extreme U.S.-style political ads, but they have sought inspiration and guidance from top Democratic and Republican strategists. Leading up to the 2018 election, for example, the Liberals got advice from Barack Obama’s chief campaign strategist David Axelrod, who told them they needed to persuade voters they still represented change. Karl Rove, the architect of George W. Bush’s two presidential victories, spoke at last year’s Manning Networking Conference, where he advised Canada’s most influential conservative thinkers, strategists and politicians to go beyond simplistic, bumper-sticker sloganeering.

The House8:29Interview – David Axelrod

What can the Liberal party learn from Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns? Re-election campaigns hang on a party’s ability to convince voters they have brought change and will continue to do so, David Axelrod tells CBC Radio’s The House. 8:29

All this suggests that election campaigning in Canada is increasingly being modelled after strategies in other countries. Here’s a sampling of what we might expect should Canadian political strategists adopt advertising and social media tactics used in the U.S. to grab attention during the pandemic.

‘Intentional wrongness persuasion’

That’s what Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert and author of the book Win Bigly, calls Donald Trump’s persuasion method. First, make a claim that is directionally accurate but has a big exaggeration or factual error. Second, wait for people to notice the exaggeration or error and spend endless hours talking about how wrong it is.

As Adams puts it, “when you dedicate focus and energy to an idea, you remember it. And the things that have the most mental impact on you will irrationally seem as though they are high in priority, even if they are not.”

Or as Jared Kushner told Bob Woodward for his book Rage, “controversy elevates the message.”

Reductio ad absurdum

It’s Latin for “reduction to absurdity,” an argument whereby one seeks to prove one’s position simply by pointing out the absurdity or foolishness of an opponent’s position.

One of the most striking Biden ads doesn’t offer any constructive information about his platform, it’s a 10-second clip posted on Twitter. It shows Trump speaking at a rally: “If I lose to him [Joe Biden], I don’t know what I’m gonna do. I will never speak to you again. You’ll never see me again.” It ends with, “I’m Joe Biden and I approve this message.” It’s been viewed more than 18 million times.

Untruths left unchecked

Many voters get their news from their social media feed, where they’ll find a hodgepodge of lies, distortions and “alternate facts,” to borrow from former Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway. Fact checkers and those seeking the truth can’t keep up.

Participants in focus groups often say that the ads in particular must be true, because they would not be allowed if they weren’t. That’s generally the case, but there’s one exception: political ads. Advertising Standards Canada vets most advertising, including government advertising, but not political ads during a campaign.

We didn’t say it, they did

Third-party advertisers often say things candidates wouldn’t dare say, and advertising from political action committees in the U.S. has huge influence. Third-party ads have been taken to a new, highly sophisticated level by organizations like the Lincoln Project, a group of Republican operatives who disavowed their own party in order to work against President Donald Trump.

In Canada, we’ve already had a taste of this. True North Strong & Free urged people to vote for the People’s Party of Canada with billboards that read “Say No to Mass Immigration,” while billboards by Alberta Fights Back called for the jailing of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The posters were eventually removed, but the decision to accept or refuse these ads lies with the media providers that must navigate delicate issues around free speech and censorship.

Anti-Trudeau billboards that called for the jailing of the prime minister were displayed across Alberta in January this year. (Submitted)

Unauthorized use

Using content in ads without permission or out of context can spell trouble for commercial advertisers, but those crafting political ads in the U.S. appear less concerned about this. The Trump campaign recently ran an ad featuring Dr. Fauci and took his words out of context, for example.

This has already started happening here. A Facebook post by a Conservative riding association in British Columbia in 2019 took an authentic quote from Canadian comedian Rick Mercer about the importance of voting, but changed the final part of the quote from “Vote” to “Vote Conservative.” And the Liberals had to remove a campaign video from Facebook that featured Governor General Julie Payette.

Star power

Film star Samuel L. Jackson appeared in an ad for the Biden campaign slamming voter suppression. Sam Elliot and Brad Pitt lent their voices to ads portraying Biden as a uniter, while Martin Sheen voiced a Lincoln Project election day ad. And Taylor Swift and Bruce Springsteen lent their songs to ads urging Americans to vote and celebrating Biden’s hometown roots.

Canadian celebrities tend to avoid politics, although Quebec’s artistic community can be vocal in its support. Should political operatives in Canada seek star power to drive home their message, they should tread carefully as politics and celebrity culture usually don’t mix well in this country.

Justin Trudeau predicted that the 2019 federal election would be the country’s nastiest. It wasn’t, at least from an advertising standpoint. As we watch how Americans have taken the political discourse to new lows, we should hope for Canadians’ stereotypical niceness and politeness to kick in so we go high after they’ve gone low.


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Facebook’s safety head tells UK lawmakers it does not amplify hate

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Facebook Inc‘s https://www.reuters.com/technology/facebooks-zuckerberg-kicks-off-its-virtual-reality-event-with-metaverse-vision-2021-10-28 algorithms demote rather than promote polarising content, its global head of safety told British lawmakers on Thursday, adding that the U.S. company would welcome effective government regulation.

Governments in Europe and the United States are grappling with regulating social media platforms to reduce the spread of harmful content, particularly for young users.

Britain is leading the charge by bringing forward laws that could fine social media companies up to 10% of their turnover if they fail to remove or limit the spread of illegal content.

Secondary legislation that would make company directors liable could be proposed if the measures do not work.

Facebook https://www.reuters.com/technology/facebook-asks-employees-preserve-internal-documents-legal-inquiries-2021-10-27 whistleblower Frances Haugen https://www.reuters.com/technology/facebook-sees-safety-cost-whistleblower-says-2021-10-25 told the same committee of lawmakers on Monday that Facebook’s algorithms pushed extreme and divisive content to users.

Facebook’s Antigone Davis denied the charge.

“I don’t agree that we are amplifying hate,” Davis told the committee on Thursday, adding: “I think we try to take in signals to ensure that we demote content that is divisive for example, or polarising.”

She said she could not guarantee a user would not be recommended hateful content, but Facebook was using AI to reduce its prevalence to 0.05%.

“We have zero interest in amplifying hate on our platform and creating a bad experience for people, they won’t come back,” she said. “Our advertisers won’t let it happen either.”

Davis said Facebook, which announced on Thursday it would rebrand as Meta, wanted regulators to contribute to making social media platforms safer, for example in research into eating disorders or body image.

“Many of these are societal issues and we would like a regulator to play a role,” she said, adding Facebook would welcome a regulator with “proportionate and effective enforcement powers”.

“I think criminal liability for directors is a pretty serious step and I’m not sure we need it to take action.”

 

(Reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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Facebook to be called Meta in nod to its ‘metaverse’ vision

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Facebook Inc is now called Meta, the company said on Thursday, in a rebrand that focuses on its ambitions building the “metaverse,” a shared virtual environment that it bets will be the next big computing platform.

The rebrand comes as the world’s largest social media company battles criticisms from lawmakers and regulators over its market power, algorithmic decisions and the policing of abuses on its platforms.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg, speaking at the company’s live-streamed virtual and augmented reality conference, said the new name reflected its ambitions to build the metaverse, rather than its namesake social media service.

The metaverse, a term first coined in a dystopian novel three decades ago and now attracting buzz in Silicon Valley, refers broadly to the idea of a shared virtual environment which can be accessed by people using different devices.

“Right now, our brand is so tightly linked to one product that it can’t possibly represent everything that we’re doing today, let alone in the future,” said Zuckerberg.

The company, which has invested heavily in augmented and virtual reality, said the change would bring together its different apps and technologies under one new brand. It said it would not change its corporate structure.

The tech giant, which reports about 2.9 billion monthly users, has faced increasing scrutiny in recent years from global lawmakers and regulators.

In the latest controversy, whistleblower and former Facebook employee Frances Haugen https://www.reuters.com/technology/facebook-sees-safety-cost-whistleblower-says-2021-10-25 leaked documents which she said showed the company chose profit over user safety. Zuckerberg earlier this week said the documents were being used to paint a “false picture.”

The company said in a blog post that it intends to start trading under the new stock ticker it has reserved, MVRS, on Dec. 1. On Thursday, it unveiled a new sign at its headquarters in Menlo Park, California, replacing its thumbs-up “Like” logo with a blue infinity shape.

Facebook said this week that its hardware division Facebook Reality Labs, which is responsible for AR and VR efforts, would become a separate reporting unit and that its investment in it would reduce this year’s total operating profit by about $10 billion. The unit will now be called Reality Labs, its head Andrew “Boz” Bosworth tweeted on Thursday.

Zuckerberg said the new name also reflects that over time, users will not need to use Facebook to use the company’s other services.

This year, the company created a product team focused on the metaverse and it recently announced plans to hire 10,000 employees in Europe over the next five years to work on the effort.

Facebook shares were up 3.7% at $323.81 on Thursday afternoon.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford in New York and Sheila Dang in DallasEditing by Ken Li and Matthew Lewis)

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Facebook’s Zuckerberg lays out ‘metaverse’ vision at developers event

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Facebook Inc CEO Mark Zuckerberg said privacy and safety would need to be built into the metaverse, as he opened the company’s annual conference on virtual and augmented reality on Thursday.

Facebook continues to battle criticism over its market power, its content moderation practices and harms linked to its social media platforms. The tech giant, which reports about 2.9 billion monthly users, has faced increasing scrutiny in recent years from global lawmakers and regulators.

In the latest controversy, whistleblower and former Facebook employee Frances Haugen https://www.reuters.com/technology/facebook-sees-safety-cost-whistleblower-says-2021-10-25 leaked documents which she said showed the company chose profit over user safety. Zuckerberg earlier this week said the documents were being used to paint a “false picture.”

The metaverse, a term first coined in a dystopian novel three decades ago and now attracting buzz in Silicon Valley, refers broadly to the idea of a shared virtual environment which can be accessed by people using different devices.

Zuckerberg has increasingly been promoting the idea of Facebook, which has invested heavily in augmented and virtual reality, as a “metaverse” company https://www.reuters.com/technology/facebook-sets-up-new-team-work-metaverse-2021-07-26 rather than a social media one.

The CEO, speaking during the live-streamed Facebook Connect event, gave examples of privacy and safety controls that would be needed in the metaverse, such as the ability to block someone from appearing in your space. Zuckerberg is betting that the metaverse will be the next big computing platform, calling it “the successor to the mobile internet.”

The whistleblower documents, which were first reported by the Wall Street Journal, show internal research and employee discussions on Instagram’s effects on the mental health of teens and whether Facebook stokes divisions, as well as its handling of activity around the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and inconsistencies in content moderation for users around the globe.

The company gave a slew of updates for its VR and AR products. It said it would this year launch a way for people using its Oculus VR headset to call friends using Facebook Messenger and for people to invite others to a social version of their home, dubbed “Horizon Home,” to talk and play games as avatars.

Facebook also said it would introduce a way for Oculus Quest users to use different 2D apps like Slack, Dropbox and Facebook while in this “Horizon Home” VR space.

The company, which began a beta test of its virtual meeting spaces “Horizon Workrooms” earlier this year, said it was working on ways of customizing these with company logos and designs and said it would be bringing more work capabilities into consumer Quest devices. It also announced new fitness offerings for Oculus Quest users.

Facebook said this week that its hardware division Facebook Reality Labs, which is responsible for AR and VR efforts, would become a separate reporting unit and that its investment in it would reduce this year’s total operating profit by about $10 billion.

This year, Facebook created a product team focused on the metaverse and it recently announced plans to hire 10,000 employees in Europe over the next five years to work on the effort.

Facebook also said it would run a $150 million education program aimed at helping AR and VR creators and developers.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford in New York and Sheila Dang in DallasEditing by Matthew Lewis)

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