Communication is fundamentally changing

The coolest company worldwide is clearly Cambridge Analytica. Within a few month they became the most powerful voter analysis organization, which could substantially influence big polls like last year’s Brexit and US presidential elections.

Everybody who believed that free speech over the internet comes without costs, learned an important lecture: In the late 1990th when the internet as a communication platform became big, the greatest achievement was enabling everybody to be heard. By setting up a homepage, you could gain a lot of attention with interesting topics.

Some early adopters like myspace or geocities allowed everybody to set up a webpage and start communicating their opinions, hobbies and interests. Unfortunately most users had almost nothing to say. At this point social media jumped in to enable users to document their life (by posting photos) and connect with friends (rather than anonymous users). If you were an open person you could make hundreds of friends, but you had (and still have) to expose your privacy.

All these services were free of charge apart from your own internet connection and computer soft- and hardware. I was never really worried, why big players in the internet business were willing to advance funds. I thought they expect something new and want to be in the pole position whenever something exploitable shows up.

Recently lots of discussions about the social media filter bubble came up, were people are trapped in (algorithm driven) automatically selected news posts confirming their fixed opinions and supporting their prejudice.

Like in Edward Snowden’s lesson (The metadata (connection networks, friends of friends we are communicating with, …) , are more interesting than the content) the social network’s metadata are used to eventually control our behavior: The mastermind behind this new research field is Michal Kosinski. Only less than a houndred social media “likes” are sufficient to assess everybody’s personality based on 5 properties called OCEAN, which is an acronym for openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (devised by Hans Jürgen Eysenck in 1967).

With this background knowledge, big data companies (like the one mentioned at the beginning of this text) are able to influence our opinion, behavior, and voting decision by placing posts, news, and articles dependent on our personal OCEAN (Like in the movie Inception, with the billionaire’s son, but with less effort). The right message for the right person brought opinion leading and advertisements onto a new level. In combination with the speed of media consumption and the lack of critical questioning the news snippets, we are easily influenced and distracted by nonsense.

Let me give you an example: The lie, that Hillary Clinton is a racist, in addition with wrong proofs and the description of alleged events, made putative democrats not to vote at the American presidential election. These news were sent to people, who consider same rights and chances for all races as most important and live in swing states. The neo-liberal mid-western self employed man, changed his plans and decided to vote, when he was actively informed about the self-proclaimed billionaire’s tax-cut plans. He likes to blame tax laws for his financial problems. In addition it transfers responsibility for his economic failure to politics.

Do we have much reason to believe in sustained quality of democracy and the critical minds of voters? What do you think? Please give me your feedback.

How can we escape from this dangerous brain wash:

  • Don’t use social media to express your opinion. Neither by posting nor by liking other people’s posts. By doing so, your motives become transparent and you might be the target for mis-information.
  • Improve your smartphone’s privacy settings, not to leak to much data about yourself..
  • Avoid high-throughput media consumption like zapping though TV channels or surf the net at random. There is no time for critically questioning the content.
  • Read a book, a quality journal or newspaper.
  • Slow down your life by playing an instrument, meet friends and spend time with your kids or parents. This gives you the strength to stand the media avalanche.
  • Raise your voice against big data collections and undermine it, whenever you can.

Btw: Here is my personal OCEAN: You’re a Rebel. You’re the center of attention and like to pursue intellectual and artistic activities. Challenges excite you, though you can find it hard to control your emotions in some situations, being prone to overthinking. Your actions are impulsive and you tend to become impatient and frustrated when stuck in a routine. Often making spontaneous decisions, you enjoy taking risks and don’t follow others. You have a tendency to be disorganized and are likely to be easily influenced by others.

Search for “Big five personality test”, if you want to know yours!

One Reply to “Communication is fundamentally changing”

  1. Nice article! I had not been aware of the severity of the threat that social media data pose to democracy and to personal information bias. Gets you thinking whether the benefits of F, G, and the like outway the risks.

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