In 2015 after the third season of House of Cards aired, Former President Bill Clinton told the series' star, Kevin Spacey, "Ninety-nine percent of what Spacey's character, Frank Underwood, does in the show is real." If you've seen at least one episode, you'll know that Underwood is willing to do anything and everything to rise and remain at the top - including commit murder.
Fast forward to season four, which just happens to coincide with the 2016 presidential race. It's uncanny -- and even a little eerie -- how much the show has begun to aptly reflect reality. As the president and co-founder of an online reputation management firm, the storyline surrounding Pollyhop, the fictional Google-esque search engine, piqued my interest most.
Pollyhop is used in two ways by Republican candidate, Will Conway, to gain the upper hand on his opponent. First, to serve only positive information about the candidate to search engine users. Second, to track and gather data on the search engine's millions of users' online behavior to gain an understanding of their thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes regarding a variety of issues so he can adjust his campaign's message accordingly.
It is totally possible to influence organic (non-paid) search results through smart and strategic SEO tactics to try and highlight the most flattering content about a person or company. This is something my firm does every single day for our clients. However, it would be absolutely impossible to push up and maintain only positive results for any presidential candidate, due to the tremendous amount of online media coverage generated about them every single day. What we refer to as a "clean front page" in the industry is something that takes months and hundreds of hours of manpower to achieve.
What is not beyond the realm of possibility, is collecting and analyzing the habits, opinions, beliefs, and behaviors of millions of internet users. In fact, Ted Cruz credits this type of data mining, research, and analysis for his win in Iowa. It might seem really sinister, but it's something that we all have actually consented to... when we signed up for Facebook.
Every scrap of information you put on Facebook -- including your age, hometown, which movies you watch, your education, favorite snacks, where you "check-in" regularly, and thousands of other seemingly insignificant tidbits -- are used by marketers every day to sell you products and services relevant to your interests. I don't blame you if this makes you feel extremely uncomfortable, but try to think about it this way: if you're a sci-fi fanatic, would you rather be served a trailer for the latest Star Wars film in your newsfeed, or one for a new rom-com that you would never spend money to see?
In the same turn, don't you want to know what each candidate's stance is on issues you are passionate enough about to post about on Facebook? Many of us don't take a very active interest in politics, and as more and more of our news is served directly to us through our Facebook feeds, we don't often feel the need to use a search engine to research a candidate.
In the end, the true winners of all of this are the apolitical types. If the firms the candidates have hired to analyze data and execute digital targeting are doing their jobs properly, those who don't vote or really care who wins, won't be served any political messages at all!