Not so long ago, communicating with large numbers of people meant broadcasting – sending one message out to lots of people. That still happens, but alongside it we see micro-casting: Using technology to send different messages out to specific people, or groups of people.
The technology has been adopted in the 2010s to remarkable degrees as mega-databases have accumulated immense amounts of information about, well, each of us. And the the resulting capability in microtargeting has become increasingly important in American politics.
It also has led to a whole new language of its own.
A January 29, 2020 column by Thomas Edsall remarked on some of this, noting the degree to which the Trump presidential campaign has been bearing down on this (more than the Democrats have).
He noted that “The explosion of digital technology has created the opportunity for political operatives to run what amount to dark campaigns, conducted below the radar of both voter awareness and government oversight. In some cases, the technology is very simple: the anonymous transmission of negative images of candidates by individuals to Facebook groups. This activity is neither reported to the Federal Election Commission nor linked to official campaigns.”
A new language has developed out of it, too. He cited some of the terms associated with it: “geofencing, mass personalization, dark patterns, identity resolution technologies, dynamic prospecting, geotargeting strategies, location analytics, geo-behavioural segment, political data cloud, automatic content recognition, dynamic creative optimization.”
The growth term, and the one with maybe the largest application – commercial and otherwise as well as political – is geofencing.
A marketing application for it is described this way: “Geofencing is the practice of using global positioning (GPS) or radio frequency identification (RFID) to define a geographic boundary. Then, once this ‘virtual barrier’ is established, the administrator can set up triggers that send a text message, email alert, or app notification when a mobile device enters (or exits) the specified area. So, businesses can section off a geographic area and communicate with devices within that space.” The information often comes via smartphones through all those apps that you allow to share location and other information.
Businesses can use it as a device for communicating with people who have interacted with or visited their businesses.
Politically, it can be used in other ways. A National Public Radio report said that “CatholicVote has already identified some 200,000 Catholics in Wisconsin, which of course is a key state heading into 2020. They’re able to discover that half of those Mass-goers are not registered to vote.” That would be valuable political information.
Of course, there is the potential for blowback, as a reporter for the National Catholic Reporter noted: “it’s not illegal, but the idea of mining data of people while they’re at worship in a church was causing outrage to some of our readers. And the fact then that that data is going to be used for political purposes added to their problems with this.”
Watch for more of these deep data terms to stick their heads up as the campaign year progresses.