When I studied journalism in college we held many debates in class and over beers about journalistic integrity. Anyone who has seen “The Post” has a sense of the content integrity dilemma. What is the publisher’s responsibility to readers? To government? To society as a whole?
Back then, I would never have thought about media technology as a weapon. I mean literally. This week, thousands of Google engineers sent a manifesto
to CEO Sundar Pichai requesting the dissolution of an AI project funded by the Department of Defense.
Project Maven’s purpose is to help the Pentagon analyze drone footage, and while the objective isn’t officially weaponization, the technology will be used by the military, whose purpose, is, well, warfare. Google’s mission statement “Don’t Be Evil,” has some of its engineers spooked about the media company’s technology, in the wrong hands, as potential to be evil.
This week, Facebook is back in the news with the announcement that more than 87 million users’ data was likely shared with Cambridge Analytica, which weaponized the data to stir dissent and controversy. Meeting with reporters Wednesday, Zuckerberg acknowledged he made a “huge mistake” in not appropriately accepting Facebook’s moral responsibility to the world.
As agencies gain more expertise in data analysis, in mapping marketing messaging, brand health and media exposure to consumer behavior, we realize we have an ethical responsibility. In the way-back days of media and marketing, like 24 months ago, morality in media tech conversations wasn’t a thing.
Digital media sellers said things like: “We can target your audience segment, but we’ve scrubbed any personally identifiable information (PII.)” Vendors were connecting offline databases to online behavior and most of the targeting was probabilistic. Now, vendors don’t even feign non-PII targeting.
Add connected TV, artificial intelligence creating look-alike video of real people doing fake things, and you’ve got the shoot-em-up wild west — only with media as the gun. I’m glad this ecosystem is being dragged into the sunlight. And I’m glad these conversations are happening.
Media and marketers need to get ahead of the debate.