While viral and immersive marketing campaigns have grown increasingly more noticeable and elaborate in response to a boom in digital presence, many avid sci-fi fans noticed that, upon the release of Independence Day: Resurgence that the marketing campaign had stepped up a notch.
Social media ethics are a grey area to this day – technology evolves so quickly and unpredictably that laws are too slow to catch up, leaving ethically dubious marketing and advertising still technically legal.
Advertisers and the U.S Army teamed up for the marketing of the new Independence Day movie, creating a game that harmlessly invites sci-fi fans to play through a few missions, set in-universe, on Facebook. Facebook in turn asks for access to the user’s information; allowing access, however, does more than just enable gameplay.
The gameplay is actually hosted through GOARMY.com – the official U.S Army recruitment website. Allowing access through Facebook immediately sends all the user’s information to the website, providing realtime information to recruiters.
This is one of many ethically grey areas that exist in social media; Facebook’s terms and services prevent legal action from being taken by users, but the selling of personal information is morally disputable at best.
Both Facebook and Google have been subject to controversies around privacy. (Youmans, York, pp. 319).
While social media is indisputably used for gathering user information and to enhance marketing to different groups, many sci-fi fans were quick to note that the U.S Army having all their data and information was a step up from the usual step of allowing Facebook access to an app; it would have real-world applications, and was being used as subliminal messaging in an online recruitment process without it being explicitly stated anywhere on the website.
Most importantly, the Army is attempting to make use of social media platforms to affirmatively communicate the Army message to the public, Soldiers, Families, Army civilians, and people all over the world. (Jonasz, pp. 38)
Many journalists have argued that the U.S Army’s involvement in the viral marketing campaign crosses a few ethical lines, and that the video gaming aspect to the campaign to gather and distribute user data to army recruitment strategists is taking advantage of social media. This opens up a new facet to recruitment and propaganda that has only just begun to be noticed and utilised in the last two decades – the use of the Internet to gather information on potential recruits, use subliminal messaging, and to incorporate real military propaganda in gamified marketing campaigns.
This poses a problem itself; there is no legislation preventing military access to civilian information via social media, and Facebook as a company is protected by its terms and services. Additionally, the popup that asks for access to the game requires user consent, which removes any liability from Facebook itself in the dissemination of personal information.
The Army quickly recognized the importance of the fact that social media provides users the capability to rapidly and efficiently communicate with large numbers of people over a 2-way communications platform using multiple media such as audio, video, photo, and text. (Jonasz, pp. 38)
With the armed forces quickly recognising the significance, impact, and presence of the internet in modern-day society, it of course became an easy, fast, and effective method to gather data on potential civilian recruits and attitudes towards the armed forces. This included the use of a video gaming element in a viral marketing campaign to find potential recruits, blurring the lines between online privacy and ethical data mining.
Jonasz, A 2012, ‘Social Media: Some Things to Consider Before Creating an Online Presence’, U.S. Army Medical Department Journal, pp. 37-46, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 9 August 2016.
Youmans, W, & York, J 2012, ‘Social media and the activist toolkit: User agreements, corporate interests, and the information infrastructure of modern social movements’, Journal Of Communication, 62, 2, pp. 315-329, PsycINFO, EBSCOhost, viewed 9 August 2016.