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How are users algorithmically controlled while online?

This second article by our guest writer, Boyd Collins, answers the question on how social media users are manipulated by the data trail they leave online, consciously or unconsciously. Facebook alone monitors 100,000 “elements” or aspects about the preferences and behavior of online users. Every aspect of user’s lives can be precisely captured by these elements that constitute one’s profiles.Once these profiles are constructed (data capture), then statistical methods can be used to predict the behavior of users (predictive analytics).

But this is just the beginning of the process. These same profile can then be used in targeting a user towards a specific behavioral outcome. This precise targeting is where ethical, economic and political issues come in; ethical, because of behavior modification; economic and political, because social platforms can be used to significantly influence user buying and voting behavior.

Three quotes capture the movement of our constantly leaking information: from data capture, data analytics, predictive analytics to prescriptive analytics, using machine learning to program people’s behavior. 

‘… the best way to predict behavior is to script it.’ ‘What the industries of the future will seek to manufacture is the self.’ And this self will be the algorithmically determined destiny‘, one that imprisons us to our past and does not allow us to evolve to a future human that is more than its programmed habits in the past.

The article ends with a call for humans to wake up. “Surrendering to the victory of machine learning over our human autonomy is not simply a mistake, it is an intellectual disease”. “Reclaiming our humanity requires that we regain control”. “All the tools necessary to successfully see through official misinformation can be found within our own minds once we begin to seek the truth that makes us free.

The article cites two books that can help us begin this process. The titles say it all. “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now” by Jaron Lanier and The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff. 

Editor’s Note: This article is one of the most sophisticated and detailed descriptions on how social media platforms, especially Facebook , ensure user predictability. With predictability comes the power to tweak the behavior of billions of people around the planet.

To capture so much in a brief article shows the author’s command over his subject.

From the author’s descriptions, one can use the term, prescriptive or manipulative analytics, for this latter step. This core secret of social media platforms are carefully hidden from the unsuspecting public to make it even more effective. All of us, in effect, have become guinea pigs in the global laboratory of social media giants aimed at controlling us and turning us into commodities for their insatiable desire for profits.

The author tantalizing leaves out the question of manipulation to control user perception of the COVID-19 issue. We are almost certain that the same techniques used to control economic and political behavior. A co-editor of this website will soon describe in an article, her own experience of this algorithmic process of false truth construction around COVID-19 issue. 

Covid-19 challenges are problematic enough. Adding artificial intelligence, using machine learning techniques, results in a potent brew to advance widespread censorship around the COVID-19 issue [See The Pandemic of Censorship here].

One can imagine using the same techniques to determine exactly what the trends of the thoughts are of humanity captured by FB’s profiles. For AI can capture and analyze these trends  from day to day, nay from minute to minute, and then move from predictive analytics to manipulative or prescriptive analytics. 

If people wonder how rapid and precise the pandemic-related censorship can take place, this article will cure them forever from techno-skepticism and its related illness: “I have nothing to hide”. Is it OK to have over 100,000 elements of information taken from you without your knowledge or permission to construct a self alien to your own notion of who you really are? If this question is not meaningful for you, then that is already a sign that you may be already enmeshed in this illusory web of reality.

It is deeply disturbing to note how much data FB and similar platforms have on us and how our own information can be used against us, including affirming a truth that is truly against our own interests. The COVID-19 issue is clearly and deeply intertwined with issues connected with machine learning and artificial intelligence. Both have to be taken hold simultaneously.

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