Tag Archives: internet

Random Reflection-What is real?

There was a lengthy piece in yesterday’s paper that gave me that “wow”, flabbergasted feeling. I’m trying not to be silenced by that feeling. Lately it occurred to me that these flabbergasting things are really stifling communication by reasonable people. The people who are hard over one way or another have a standard set of lines to go to, relevant or not.

The article: Paying to be Popular: social media’s black market. Since anyone reading this is at least a little involved in social media it’s worth a read. Fake followers for fake news (I am talking about real fake news, not the kind of “fake news” that means someone in power doesn’t like it even though it’s true). People who are “influencers” are buying followers so they appear to be more influential than they are. This causes their postings to bubble to the top in the algorithms that decided who should see what.

There was a scary article, in a scary special report called the Future of War, in this week’s Economist as well: My truth against yours: The power of fake news and undue influence.

It is a war…on us.

Here is the last paragraph from the Economist article:

In the future, “fake news” put together with the aid of artificial intelligence will be so realistic that even the best resources and most professional news organization will be hard pressed to tell the difference between the real and the made-up sort. Official web-sites and social-media accounts will become increasingly vulnerable to hackers, who may be able not only to provoke stock market crashes and riots but even contrive crises between countries that may induce them to go to war with each other.

The two articles are talking about some similar points. In the Times article some people have had their social media identities borrowed by these outfits that provide fake followers. The article was primarily about marketers manipulating the system. In the Economist they show how this was used during the last presidential campaign to manipulate outcomes.

This brought to mind something from a couple of years ago: I was chaperoning my niece and some friends at an over-night at my dad’s house. They made popcorn, watched a movie then started to do those Facebook surveys. The ones like “What kind of princess are you?”  I was struck at how much data about the personalities of these young people Facebook was obtaining through these surveys. Enough to figure out exactly how to manipulate the people who fill them out, not just by interests based on what they post, but by creating and choosing ads that will trigger them to react.  It felt evil. The kids were just doing the surveys for fun.

I think we need to ask some serious questions of ourselves about what the purpose and scope of social media should be…or if it should exist at all.

It feels like the system has evolved to stifle and manipulate us. Is there any way to hit the reset button and turn it back into a fun way to connect with family and friends? Or maybe I was naive to think that was ever the point.

It Used to be More Fun

Not sure when it happened, and I am pretty sure that a prime minister wouldn’t be the fix, but it used to be way more fun to search the web. An adventure: you could type in something, and one thing would lead to another and you might travel all around the world learning cool stuff. Kind of like when you open the page of an encyclopedia to learn about one thing, then get intrigued by something else on the page.

Now you “google” something and everything adjusts as if the only thing you care about is the one thing you searched on. The first thing that shows up in any search is ads followed by wiki-whatever. Don’t get me wrong, I love wikipedia in many ways. It just seems like we have to work extra hard to get a broad overview of what is happening…and sometimes self-declared experts are not the best source of information.

I once made a very short facebook post: “I have decided to go to Africa” and all the ads changed to have “Africa” in them in a blink. That was a few years ago and things were a bit less sophisticated, some of the ads were obviously just plugging in a key word from the post. I can remember laughing about a couple of them and wish I had jotted them down. I think one was about African designer shoes that could be delivered next day.

My son has experienced the same thing: he teaches kindergarten aged kids and looked up an article about how they learn. He says that now all of the news articles that show up are about kids. Nothing about the economy, earthquakes, ISIS or any of the many other things going on, just things like “two year old hit by car”. It is very limiting.

It is also the opposite of how the internet used to be, and a little scary, since we seem to be leaning more and more toward getting all of our information from the internet. Living in China it is James’s main source of information.

I wonder if this does not contribute to the increased polarity that we keep hearing about: we can so easily avoid balanced and nuanced discussion and see a whole bunch of articles that encourage us to think our initial impulse is the only way to think. Why do all the work of creating consensus or compromise if you can just rationalize your opinion and call the people who don’t agree with you names?

But then who has time?

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “New Internet Order.”