When does social media self monitoring end and international censorship begin?

Social media algorithms are taping into our shopping habits

Social media algorithms are taping into our shopping habits - Credit: PA

A view from East Devon with district council leader Paul Arnott

East Devon District Council leader, Councilor Paul Arnott. Picture: Paul Arnott

East Devon District Council leader, Councilor Paul Arnott. Picture: Paul Arnott - Credit: Archant

For those not on Facebook, the next few paragraphs may read like gobbledygook. I understand from the younger contingent in my family that it has now become the preserve of aging types like me, while they themselves prefer to photo their food for Instagram. And for the really aging types, it may never have achieved any traction in the first place.

Facebook has proved to be equal parts curse and blessing, like so much of the internet. Yes, it has provided a platform for those with loathsome views, and may even have bent some elections out of shape in parts of the world through unbridled misinformation.

On the other hand, those of us who even half try at it tend to have a couple of hundred “friends”, some who had not crossed our minds in four decades and are now sharing their entire life-story. I like that.

It is of course best not to sit there scrolling while watching the television; this can become a habit. Indeed addictions can form. One of my family cannot stop buying 'bargains' on Facebook Marketplace, and spends much of her leisure time now driving across East Devon picking up teapots or outdoor chairs that we certainly do not need/have room for.

But I mustn’t disparage that; it means that the whole upcycling economy is alive and well around here and items are not going into council incinerators but being creatively repurposed instead.

There is a one fascinating side to all this though, which Facebookers will recognise – the kind of adverts which are specifically targeted at each individual via advertising algorithms. Some are exactly what a 59 year old middle-class male should expect.

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Ads for 2 for 1 trouser offers, trendy-but-actually-embarrassing floral and patterned shirts in the style of Jeff Banks, 2 for 1 slip-on shoe offers, cruise holidays, and over-55 new housing developments in the south west.

I don’t want any of those things, yet somehow the cunning algorithm has persisted. It has drilled into my psyche and is now setting before me one repeated temptation I find myself being increasingly sucked into: yes, the enticing world of motorhomes and camper vans.

This should not be. I have never slept a night in a tent, a caravan or even a barge. But once they had lured me with that funky ad for the VW California camper van, I couldn’t stop looking. That’s how it begins, you see, and - come the end of this blessed pandemic - I have a fantasy about heading to whatever is the biggest motorhome show in the UK, almost certainly on my own, but resolute with my thermos and sandwiches.

A converted hippy wagon is simply not enough for me now. I crave the hard stuff - a proper machine with fully working loo, shower, kitchen and micro generator to keep me on the grid. I don’t want to go “off-grid”; I want all the television and internet capacity I have at home. I want a double bed in its own room, not winched up or down at the end of a long day.

And after a year of browsing all this, Facebook is no longer offering me hippy wagons, but juggernaut sized behemoths. Indeed, I have found the one I would happily travel the world in, nothing too over the top in its range. The price: £122,500.

Two things are clear. I do not have and will never have enough money to buy it, but also, this will not stop me looking. Some may call this avarice, or envy, or something equally damning from one of the world’s religions.

To me, it is just a bit of fun, like flicking though a catalogue in the old days. We are all on Facebook’s case at the moment but we must be careful where editorial self-monitoring ends and international censorship begins. Mankind and markets are as old as time.

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