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Can anybody tell me what "play to..." means in this sentence -

"Extortion hacks play to the deepest fears of companies and executives—if not handled well, company secrets are exposed, customers file lawsuits, and executives lose their jobs"

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Very simple words like "play" or "run" or "go" have so many meanings that it's often difficult to tell which is the correct one for a given use. In this case, play means to utilize or exploit. From the Merriam-Webster definition:

play (v) 2.a: to take advantage

So in this sentence, the author is stating that extortion hacks work well because they are able to make use of a company's fear of lawsuits, etc.

I'm not sure that I would have chosen play to here though. In a negative sense, it's almost always play on. When someone plays to someone else, they are generally behaving in a way that is calculated to gain favor from the target of the behavior. You might play to an audience of chemists with science jokes. That would be Merriam-Webster verb definition, 3.d, if you're curious. It's possible that the author was trying to use this sense of the verb, but it's not the typical context you would find it in.

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