Why Should You Care NH: We All Need Better Sources

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Bob Charest after searching the Internet for a three-year-old car had this story show up on his Facebook timeline. Coincidence? He thinks not. He also mentioned that he recently signed up for Hulu's new $5.99 per month plan for a year on the service, and these ads have now been showing up everywhere. Is it possible the Russians influenced an election? He thinks it is.

 

By BOB CHAREST
Why Should You Care NH

I must admit that I am not as smart as I think I am.

In fact, I’ve written this column about a vexing issue that bothers me, and if you get to the end, you’ll see that I have none of the answers.

Despite the fact that I am college-educated (some would consider that enough evidence of my lack of intelligence right there), worked for 30-plus years in the news industry, and try to keep on top of what’s happening in the world, I can easily be outsmarted.

All it takes is a well-coordinated plan, or maybe not so well-coordinated, and I’m toast.

But guess what?

This goes for the rest of you, too. So don’t gloat.

Why am I feeling so glum? A recent experience has revealed just how technology is trying to get the better of me, or more accurately, how unscrupulous types are trying to get the better of me (and you) using technology.

This is so insidious that I predict it could become the rage among businesses, both honest and not so honest.

Bob Charest

My brush with technological imbecility came while I was searching for a new car. I have been looking, with the emphasis on looking, for a used vehicle. I have checked out eBay, Craigslist, carguru.com, findingallcars.com, and a whole bunch of local car dealers’ websites, usually zeroing in on cars that are three years old without a lot of mileage.

Suddenly, my Facebook page is filled with pictures of cars.

This is fine. I sort of expected it. I’ve done online searches before and then been faced with a ton of ads offering exactly what I’m looking for. Over and over again. Even after I’ve bought the item in question.

But this latest experience is so remarkable, so ingenious, I had to tip my hat to the Internet once again.

Not only did I see Ford Escapes of all shapes and sizes, I started seeing on my Facebook timeline story after story about “The 28 cars to avoid,” “The best rated cars by their owners,” and my personal favorite, “The best deals in three-year-old cars.”

My initial reaction: Wow, I’m looking for a three-year-old car!

Hey, wait a minute!

Did they (they being the amorphous, anonymous they) know that I was searching for a three-year-old car?

Of course “they” did, whomever they are.

The stuff we are seeing on social media these days is so tailored to us, it is frightening.

Just imagine after they’ve hooked me because, dog gone it, I’m looking for a three-year-old car, and isn’t this a coincidence! A story on just the thing I wanted to know about. And then buried in the body of the story is perhaps a veiled message from Ford or Chevrolet or someone, a statement that the blah, blah, blah model, from whoever is the paid sponsor, is rated very highly by satisfied owners. You should buy one of these, Bob! (I made up that last part, but I’d be willing to bet they can personalize the message, too.)

My point is this: Isn’t this a form of advertising that should be outlawed? It’s deceitful, it’s manipulative, and it’s just plain wrong. After all, we have outlawed subliminal messaging in this country. Isn’t this another form of that?

The news lately has been filled with stories about how mysterious Russian entities have bought ads on Facebook in an effort to influence the last election. I’m starting to see how they could do it.

A recent story on Yahoo! News’s finance site says, “Facebook is under the most intense scrutiny in its 17-year history, amid revelations that it ran political ads paid for by Russian interests during last year’s presidential election.”

The story indicates Congress plans to release the ads in question during the coming weeks.

We all need to pay attention to this story as it unfolds. I fear we are being manipulated in ways that we will be surprised to hear.

The fake news on Facebook is bad enough, but if we are being lured into scams and manipulated into reading bad information that forms our opinions, we should be outraged.

Which leads me to my biggest concern: Whom do we trust?

As White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said the other day, he’s flummoxed by the amount of fake news he sees and reads every day. His advice to the media? Get better sources.

This is the issue for the 21st century, when we come right down to it. We all need better sources.


Bob Charest has been in the news business since 1977. He has worked at newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire as a reporter and editor. A graduate of Boston University, he has consulted with InDepthNH.org on editing and grant proposals since before its founding in 2015. He write on topics related to advances in technology and how they have affected our privacy in America.

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