A week or so I was seated for a jury duty call and one of the questions asked during the juror interrogatory was literally that – where do you get your news, and specifically do you get it from Facebook or social media.  In that instance the attorney was particularly concerned about jurors prejudicing themselves with information on the crime being tried, on the defendant, literally by taking it on their own initiative to investigate the case for themselves online.

It was a good question, a real concern and of course has much broader implications. It’s also something I address in considerable detail in my book Creating Chaos on political warfare which will be coming out in late summer/early fall.   I was thinking about doing a post on this subject late last week, especially when the topic of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica came up in the news, both of which receive a good deal of attention in the final chapters of the book. Fortunately I was doing my research before Facebook removed certain of their advertising materials, featuring the capabilities of their demographic targeting, and its use in political messaging. A year ago that was something for them to tout – much of that is gone now – especially after the recent exposure of those its profiling capabilities and the impact it’s had on their stock.

The very thing that makes social media so addictive – its ability to track your preferences and guide you to materials which match them (not just in books, shopping, music, dating, etc) and so attractive for marketing (products, politics, messages, and for that matter hate) is what makes it so financially attractive in a business sense.  Having worked in marketing and advertising for a couple of decades, I personally experienced the escalation in reader/viewer targeting which began in print, moved on to the broadcast media and then to the internet.

The goal was always to target your message as finely as possible, both geographically and demographically. The more information a given media collected and made available to the advertiser the better – it allowed messages to be finally tailored and delivered specifically to those who would be most likely to actually welcome them.  And “advertorials” where viewed as an especially  positive tool, providing facts to educate the reader/viewer while still promoting your product or service.  The only limitation was that it was all very expensive because even the best options for slicing and dicing target groups were relatively limited in either print or broadcast media.

The fact that Facebook, or any social media outlet, can collect information for user profiling is both a service and an exposure, initially everybody loved it including American political parties…until the Russians jumped in with their own agenda and poisoned the well.  My own caution here is that much of the current angst about purported academics sharing profile information collected on Facebook for commercial purposes is way too focused.

You should take a look at all your social media and research how it makes money from marketing and advertising (including not just ad clicks but page views), and think about how it could be in business without that. I have friends who happily used the customized marketing features of Facebook for their own purposes but now are concerned that “bad people” do the same thing with very loaded and nasty messaging.

Think about it a minute, do you set up your own social messaging selections only to track what you prefer in terms of news, excluding all others? Do you just follow the hashtags that excite you?  Do you complain about people that only watch FOX, or MSNBC or perhaps RT…and then intentionally build walls about your own news choices?  Digital communications of all forms have created the ability to customize the world we all see each day, which means they also tempt us into a process very similar to operant conditioning.

The Russian internet messaging is very skillful in the use of operant conditioning, providing both positive and negative reinforcement to its targeted demographics…telling you both good things and bad things, and channeling that information through people and sources you have shown a tendency to trust though your own preferences.  It can be a very addictive process, ideal for religious and political recruiting as ISIS demonstrated and as a variety of nativist and racist groups are demonstrating in both the United States and Europe…check out the Florida school shooter’s conditioning experience as an example.

Bottom line, be very careful where you get your news – and don’t think the only worry is Facebook.  Still, for a bit more on its specific problems, you might want the check out the following links:

https://theintercept.com/2018/03/14/facebook-election-meddling/

https://newsroom.fb.com/news/2018/03/suspending-cambridge-analytica/

http://money.cnn.com/2018/03/19/technology/cambridge-analytica-scientist-aleksandr-kogan/index.html

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11 responses »

  1. Debra Conway JFK Lancer says:

    Shared on Facebook/Twitter. Good job!

    Deb

    • larryjoe2 says:

      I’ve been following more of this, especially some of the current inquiries by British officials, which as the day passed have been picked up by at least one U.S. State AG. Considering that CA has some of its roots in counter insurgency work, and in Afghanistan, its not totally unexpected to find what actually amounts to political warfare embedded in their consulting – and not simply the sort of targeting that would be more common in marketing or politics. Their own sales literature, which I cite in the book, makes it very clear that they claimed to be able to literally win campaigns for their customers.

      What makes it even more concerning is that they are certainly not the only ones with those skills or the ability to acquire data…it appears that they may simply have scammed Facebook, but I have little doubt hacking can accomplish the same thing. And its all available for sale – data, practices, consulting – to any group with the ability to pay.

      • larryjoe2 says:

        Something I forgot to add in the post – to emphasize the scope of data being collected even without any scamming or hacking to get Facebook data – is an illustration of just how much information you share simply though routinely using social network applications such as Facebook. As an illustration, go into Facebook, pull the drop-down menu for “settings” and then look at the information under “Apps”. A couple of years ago you might simple have been amazed by how many opportunities you are given to share and actively get information about things you are interested in – now when you think about it you realize how deeply you are profiling yourself when you take advantage of the options. And this is basic to the service, it offers you benefits but at the same time exposes a great deal of information about you. Of course today things are shared on social media that stun the older generations, but it might be a good time to stop and thing about exactly how you control what you are sharing.

        In terms of full disclosure, in Creating Chaos I write about the types of demographics Facebook was building, even off its own options, without introducing surveys and quizes and the other third party applications that dig much more deeply into your preferences and history. However even at that I had not fully appreciated how some of it was collected until my friend Deb Galentine brought it to my attention. Deb is a true warrior in exposing a variety of Russian and other trolls on Facebook, kudos to her.

      • Anonymous says:

        One wonders if Facebook can stand by its ugly excuse that it built its company and avoided legal liability by ignoring data mining use, or whether there was some profit and power gained by allowing indiscriminate data mining to the intelligence agencies as well as others.

        Not to become totally paranoid, but I’m goaded by the intelligence and law enforcement database benefits available through a certain ancestry research company offering free “spit in a tube” DNA testing as a “promotional gimmick.” It’s like something out of a dystopian future paperback novel – but then, so much is, these days.

      • larryjoe2 says:

        My view is that Facebook, and certain of the other social media services, have been driven by both commercial and competitive factors. I’ve been around computer communications and services from long before the internet, from BBS systems and the earliest message and subject posting systems. There was always a concern for user data and who was getting access to what but usage was always the driver. As far a Facebook is concerned, most of the personal data that it has ended collecting was driven by the desire of individuals to market themselves, and their services and products and if Facebook could add more options and allow more filtering it could compete with EBay and the dating sites and the list goes on.

        And users loved it and asked for more, more personal data, more selections, more advanced linkages, let me target my messaging to people I like or who I want to like me or ..whatever.

        I see it all as market driven with no control at all…after all who wanted to look like “big brother”. So we are left with social media companies that are really media companies at heart, with exponentially better demographic targeting than TV, cable, radio etc (or the personals sections of newspapers)…and its all for sale. And there its so good that anybody can take advantage of it for any agenda. Just think what would happen if much of the content you see on Facebook..or twitter…or etc…was offered up to TV stations or newspapers?

        So no, I think what you are seeing is unconstrained capitalism, almost the reverse of 1984…a world where any given group or individual can become Big Brother to their target group.

    • David Andrews says:

      Larry – by accident I’m listed as the “Anonymous” reply. What I meant to say, as others have posited before me, is that Facebook is a trove of picture data that could be mined to create a database for facial recognition software identification.

      Getting DNA from that ancestry research endeavor is only a court order away in one potential legal case, which could establish a legal precedent for further mining of non-criminal DNA sampling.

      “Even paranoids have real enemies,” as Ernest Jones said about Freud’s work.

      • larryjoe2 says:

        Hi David, certainly Facebook is a major source of that data but for that matter so are the drivers license files already held by the government, ditto the arrest photos, the military enlistment photos, passport photos and for that matter all the hand gun carry photos. And if you want to scoop up social media data you have the dating sites, snapchat, instagram, pinterest, and a number of other image capable sites. Unless you did something to forbid people sharing their photos electronically..and those of all their friends, relatives, etc that was going to happen and digital cameras and picture phones ensured an explosive increase in images for that purpose..

        Once the internet and software apps developed to the point where images were as easy to move as small amounts of text that’s the way it was going to be…to show my age I recall when we were excited to be able to move 300 and 1200 bit data over phone lines…no photos back then, grin.

        I’m not being dismissive, but security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies will always “mine” any source available for the materials necessary to their work, whether you like it or agree with it – that’s their job. It don’t see it as deep state or conspiracy stuff, they simply take advantage of what is available, and if you want to trace the history of such things you can go back as far as you would like and find examples – I write about some of them from centuries ago in my upcoming book Creating Chaos. Technology simply provides more opportunities and truthfully

        I’m far more concerned about the risk and exposure to people putting too much personal information on line when it is used by real criminals and the truly nasty people who pray on the young, old and other target groups – as well as the political and state actors who do the same. But that’s just my world view of course.

  2. Anthony says:

    As always a very interesting article.
    There is probably a role for the education sector in all of this. To some degree it is already happening. My daughter’s school has held lessons looking at bias in different media sources. As a result she has both moderately conservative and moderately liberal newspsper apps on her phone and comments on how differently they report the same events.
    That sort of thing probably needs to become compulsory and more consistent across schools and to go somewhat wider and deeper into the issue, but it’s a start.
    As citizens we have a duty to our democracies but too many lack the ability or inclination to keep themselves critically informed.

    • larryjoe2 says:

      I would certainly agree but there is also a very real concern that curriculum changes in high schools in many states over recent years have gutted civics and social studies programs, advanced history, social studies and civics courses have been put at risk also. I won’t go into the politics of this here but such courses, including American history courses, have become political targets and in some cases teachers have been targeted as well – for teaching anything that might call into question what some perceive as “Americanism”…which means covering anything at all negative about our history or institutions. Its a troubling trend and of course further exposes the voting population to being manipulated via structured news messaging. I’m glad to hear about your school but I’m concerned that in many states that sort of instruction has either gone by the wayside or is threatened.

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