EVERYONE knows by now that Facebook is used for microtargeting by large companies — and, indeed, nations — so that their advertising campaigns reach the most vulnerable.
You don’t have to be Vladimir Putin to take advantage of the company’s services. Under the headline “One Click Heresy”, Kevin Poulsen, an experienced security reporter, got an excellent story into the Daily Beast about the efforts by a few ex-Mormons to deconvert their former friends and families.
Because most members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) live in a bubble of willed ignorance about the fruitier parts of its history, it can come as a monumental shock to discover that the founders were polygamous racists. Many find that their faith cannot survive this discovery.
Almost all shun any sources of anti-Mormon propaganda, as they would see it. But, after many departures from the Swedish branch of the organisation in 2010, when the original history became widely known, the elders prepared some nicely sanitised versions of the history which had previously been passed over in silence, and published them on their own official websites. The flavour is given by this one: “The Prophet was commanded to marry a 14-year-old girl. However, there is no proof they had sexual relations.”
Naturally, these confusing nuggets were hidden in places where only someone who knew of their existence and was actively looking could find them. But they do exist, and they are official Mormon publications, using all the visual cues that distinguish such things.
So, when a Californian ex-Mormon small businessman decided to reach his family with his reasons for leaving the faith — they would no longer speak to him — he turned to directed Facebook advertising. Facebook allows ads to be shown to the owners of particular email addresses.
Poulsen reported: “He built out a Facebook audience list that included the people once closest to him who’d now turned away — his business partner, his sisters, a neighbor and his mother. Then he crafted a sponsored post in the style of an LDS ad, but linking to a Mormon-friendly apologia website that attempts to explain the more controversial aspects of the religion. ‘The link was to a defense of polyandry,’ he said. ‘So they click the link and read a defence of why Joseph Smith sent men away on missions and then married their wives.’”
Of the 30 people targeted in that first ad, only three clicked. But it was enough to convince the ex-Mormon that his plan could work. “I could see how many unique people were seeing my ads, and I could see the clicks,” he said. “It gave me the satisfaction of knowing that some were going to sites that showed them what I knew and they didn’t.”
In the end, he showed his ads to nearly 5000 people, and nearly half clicked through to one of them. None of the victims realised that they had been personally targeted, and they might have been angry had they known. But it will be fascinating to see whether the technique spreads to the Alpha course, and, indeed, atheist or Muslim evangelists. At a guess, it will be less effective with an audience not as accustomed to Facebook ads about their beliefs as Mormons are. But someone is going to try, anyway.
POPE FRANCIS got more publicity on his flight back from Abu Dhabi for admitting that priests had been abusing nuns than for his diplomatic efforts there. The story of the abuse of nuns has been around for a very long time. But now it has reached The New York Times, which added the detail: “A top official in the Vatican office that handles sexual-abuse allegations resigned last month after a former nun accused him of making sexual advances during confession.”
The diplomacy got a failing mark from David Gardner in the FT: “The Vatican’s priorities are to expand freedom of worship in the Arabian peninsula and to staunch the exodus of Arab Christians from the Levant or northern Arabia. It is hard to conceive of a policy that does all this — in effect to ensure Christianity survives in the lands of its birth — and the Vatican does not seem to have one.”
THE attempt by the National Enquirer, an American supermarket tabloid owned by David Pecker, a friend and ally of President Trump’s, to blackmail Jeff Bezos, the owner of The Washington Post and Amazon.com, over some startlingly ill-advised pictures he’d sent to his mistress produced one of the best headlines of the week, when Bezos himself published his security chief’s correspondence with the tabloid. “Bezos exposes Pecker”, wrote some unknown, immortal sub on the Huffington Post, under a photograph of Mr Bezos gesturing with his hands about two feet apart.
THE Mail Online, meanwhile, offered its readers the news that “The son of God was actually Greek and became a famous miracle worker, before being eradicated from history. . . Wild claims were made in a bombshell [Amazon] documentary called Bibe Conspiracies” — presumably a misprint for Bile Conspiracies.