YOUR OPINION: Senator Bill Nelson, Your Anti-Facebook Crusade Will Crush Small Businesses
By Matthew O'Hern // June 10, 2018
YOUR OPINION: 'Sen. Nelson, you shouldn't regulate an industry that you don't understand'
I write this open letter to Senator Bill Nelson with no political agenda. I didn’t vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, and I’m not here to defend or attack either of them for any devious scheme on social media.
My agenda is to protect Florida’s small business from potentially harmful policies authored by legislators who are egregiously ignorant of an industry they wish to further regulate: Web advertising and social media advertising.
Sen. Nelson, if you truly want to help Florida’s small businesses thrive, and if you truly value industry-specific input from your constituents in the field of those industries, then you will take the time to read insight offered from a Floridian who spends each minute of his daily workday managing social media and web search advertising for Florida-based small businesses.
I’m not questioning the integrity of your motive, but your tact on shaping policy in this area. You’re the same age as my father, and both of you grew up in a generation far removed from today’s digital world.
While you spent the past three decades writing laws, my father spent the last three decades caring for children as a pediatrician here in Brevard County, and neither of you should be faulted for not being as inherently “web-savvy” as my generation.
While I don’t expect either you or my father to grasp the latest trends in digital tech I expect my dad to know the important details regarding health and biology, just as I expect you to know the important details involved with any policy your hands may touch.
Considering those facts, I hope you would at least concede that you don’t know much about the specific tactics and tools involved with digital marketing, social media advertising or search engine marketing. Each time you’ve publicly discussed Facebook or any other online platform, I’ve been disturbed by your comments and questions which expose your ignorance about an industry you’re eager to regulate.
Millions of small businesses generate billions new annual revenue from social media ads, and you’re about to decrease that revenue. Any additional regulations you co-author to reduce the current scope of web ad targeting available on Facebook, Google or Twitter will devastate thousands of small businesses that rely on those networks’ ad platforms.
Those platforms legally and ethically offer an opportunity to reach the most qualified prospects and new customers at a fraction of the cost that those same businesses would pay for less or equal exposure on TV, radio or print media. Regulating social network ad platforms beyond the current laws in place will also limit middle-class consumers’ awareness of local goods, services and product alternative to big box stores and large corporations.
If your effort to add regulations to these platforms succeeds, the beneficiaries will be those aforementioned large corporations, and the victims will be small businesses across Florida and the rest of the United States.
Sen. Nelson, I understand why you and many of Americans who don’t work in this industry deem the leaders such as Facebook and Google as justified targets for criticism and scrutiny. but public perception doesn’t always match the reality of a situation. I can tell you exactly what actually happens with your profile data vs. the outright false claims which have been perpetuated by uninformed journalists.
For the past 10 years, I have created, targeted and launched hundreds of Facebook, Twitter and Google campaign and millions of dollars worth of ad budgets, including multiple Presidential campaigns, all the way down to city council races. Since I entered the social advertising industry 10 years ago and directly managed every aspect of those campaigns, Facebook never disclosed an individual’s voting history information, economic information, property information or any other sensitive individual-attributed data.
The data utilized for social media ads is derived from two sources: Retail loyalty databases based on consumer opt-ins agreeing to disclose average spending habit info, merged with data from the US Census.
Ironically, the very federal government where you serve as our Senator provides more voter information to any and every American citizen who visits the Federal Election Commission’s individual campaign contributions database, or a division of elections office at the state or county level. Unlike the ad platforms on Facebook, Google or Twitter, the FEC’s platform does trace and disclose individual voter data.
Sen. Nelson, I don’t see you condemning the FEC or county-level offices for disclosing individual voter political party registration and political campaign donations to the general public. Any US resident can access and save records of individuals political contributions, along with each donor’s respective city of residence, as well as the voter’s employer.
As for Cambridge Analytica, that firm employed tactics outside of Facebook’s domain our guidance to match data. Any website that contains user-submitted information is at risk of an outside party unethically obtaining and exploiting data.
Today, you cited a New York Times article that portrayed Facebook as a national security threat, but the Times’ reporters showed their ignorance much like our Senators displayed during Mr. Zuckerberg’s visit. The inspiration behind the Times’ hit piece on Facebook stems from the competition for readers posed not only from Facebook but other online sources for national news.
This shift coincided with economic lows in the past decade which forced businesses to find new, cost-effective outlets to reach their target audiences, especially if they produce niche products and services. To the great satisfaction of business owners, Google search and social networks arrived at the perfect time and presented marketers with unprecedented options to exclusively target audiences who were self-described as their most-likely interested prospects.
The digital revolution leveled the playing field not only for small businesses but independent media entities that compete for the same ad revenue so deeply coveted by major media networks. With all due respect, Sen. Nelson, you shouldn’t regulate an industry that you don’t understand.
You’ve served long enough. In the opinion of this registered voter, your time in office should conclude in 2018.
– Matthew O’Hern, Digital marketing consultant, lifelong Florida resident
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