Last Saturday, CBC TV aired a documentary called The Persuasion Machine of Silicon Valley. I recommend everyone who is concerned about the state of democracy and its future spend the hour to watch it. If you can't, here is my synopsis.
This documentary explains how the Trump campaign team used Facebook to win the election.
The team kind of stumbled into a British firm who had developed algorithms to take the FB data and categorize FB users into various demographics. As an example, the producer of the documentary handed over his FB usage to the firm, and it determined that he grew up Roman Catholic but left the religion--yet the producer never discussed his religiosity on FB. The algorithm somehow figured this out based on other posts. So the Trump team hired this firm to divide the American voter into various groupings.
Once the boundaries of the various demographic groups had been laid out, the Trump FB campaign team (not to be confused with the traditional campaign team) designed FB ads for each of the demographics. It then directed those ads towards the intended demographic. Within a few days, the algorithm could determine whether ad was creating a good feeling or not. If so, the ad run continued. If not, it was changed out.
One of the voter groups was "single mothers of young children." It is hard to see why Trump should go after this demographic, but the FB campaign team did. It designed an ad that had happy children playing in a playground on a sunny day, talking about their positive future. At the end of this clip came a bumper meme that said "TRUMP/pence". Nothing more about the candidate.
I'm under no illusion that this demographic group was going to be turned from leaning towards Democrat to leaning towards Republican. But the ad created such good feelings from these struggling moms that: "Mr. Trump is not as bad as the mainstream media says, so let's just stay home with the kids on election day."
In a nutshell, Trump's FB campaign team designed specific ads to deliver specific groups. And given the surprise of the election result, I think it's safe to assume that this under-the-radar campaign delivered Mr. Trump to the White House (much more so than any Russian meddling).
The question is now: Is this new style campaigning actually good for democracy?
It seems to me that the substance behind the people aspiring for political office is going to matter less and less.