Marketing domestic war

Facebook targets pro-violence advertising to – naturally – the people most likely to use it.

As part of my research while working as a consulting producer on Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, I made many pro-Trump social media accounts. The accounts were a window into the Trump echo-chamber, where the unhinged threats and vitriol posted by radicalized users are chilling. Yet as shocking as the posts can be, they make perfect sense if you look at the ads that bombard those accounts.

Roughly four out of five ads shown to my pro-Trump profiles sell tactical gear clearly intended for combat. This is not a new thing – it has been going on since I started looking at these accounts in June 2019, and it was probably going on much longer than that.

You have to wonder why tactical gear intended for combat is a private market thing at all. Are there ads for nuclear weapons? Fighter jets? Tanks? Should war equipment really be a consumer item?

Despite not actually selling guns, the vast majority of the ads nevertheless display military-style weapons somewhere in their design. An automatic rifle slides into the tactical backpack. The body armor is worn by someone actively poised to shoot a semi-automatic weapon. A black T-shirt presents an image of a medieval crusader in full armor holding a contemporary handgun, accompanied by a biblical quote: “Blessed be the lord my rock who trains my hands for war and my fingers for battle.”

Capitalism—>marketing the tools of war: fabulous!

Ad revenue is the lifeblood of platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and ads from companies peddling military-style gear are key to creating the hateful communities we see online today. To change the violent online world Facebook has created for “Trump’s Army” will require changing the algorithms themselves, the basic architecture of Facebook’s advertising – a market that is projected to bring the company nearly $100bn in the coming year.

And Zuckerberg isn’t about to mess with that.

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