Photo by Launchpresso Digital Marketing
We the people are easily manipulated. Perhaps not you or me specifically—some of us are suspicious of any such attempts—but the population at large. Thanks to Google’s AdWords and YouTube videos, it’s easier than ever to sway people’s opinions with social engineering. That may or may not be a bad thing, but it’s certainly worth pondering.
In 2016, the Google-incubated Redirect Method used ads to deradicalize would-be Islamic State extremists, redirecting 320,000 people to videos debunking ISIS’s recruitment narratives. But the Redirect Method wasn’t a one-off—the groups behind it distilled it into a 44-step blueprint.
In an opinion piece at the New York Times, Patrick Berlinquette, founder of the search engine marketing consulting firm Berlin SEM, explains how he used the Redirect Method’s blueprint to change the minds of suicidal people. His ads for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline generated a 28% conversion rate, 7 times the average rate of 4%, in just a week. A second experiment to redirect prospective school shooters to a crisis hotline failed, but the point remains—it’s easy for anyone to use Google’s precise targeting tools and redirect ads to promote their own agenda. In some regards, this conclusion is obvious—it’s what marketers do every day. But it raises questions about the ethics involved, how to protect yourself and others from such manipulation, and what Google’s role in all this should be. What do you think?