As I continue on through my graduate courses, I’ve been surprised at what I’ve learned that applies to life in general. This week, we were to watch a TEDx talk called “The Dark Side of Our Personal Marketing Data” and the speaker was Kirk Grogan, a marketing professional.
He asked this question: “What if your behavior is being modified without your knowledge?”
The answer, of course, is that it IS.
He’s talking about more than just getting you to purchase a product and uses the 2016 election as an example. Interestingly, it was found that Russia was targeting both sides to widen the division.
In the years since, this divide has only worsened and part of the cause has been social media accounts on either side of the aisle that instill fear within their followers, usually not using facts or evidence. Conspiracy theories abound, echo chambers intensify as we believe the lies we are told that there’s an enemy to defeat. We hear it so often that it must be true, right?
I wrote this post a year ago and it still rings true today: You Are Probably Being Manipulated. To quote from there:
I see a common motivation behind dramatic posts I see these days in my Facebook newsfeed, and it’s one to which I’ve seen far too many people fall victim: control people without them realizing they are being controlled by instilling within them a fear of being controlled.Lesa Brackbill
Kirk Grogan observes that the same techniques he uses to promote products for clients are being used for far more malicious purposes:
“A moment has quietly passed in society that is desperately important. This moment was when a small number of humans realized that by compiling mass amounts of data, that they could proactively and intentionally shape our beliefs. They discovered they could funnel consumers to a goal and mold them along the way to behave like the ideal customer, or activist, or citizen, or extremist…even the brightest people in this room are not immune to digital manipulation.
What we really need is open dialogue and a collective understanding of how these tactics have divided us and how we can reconcile those differences. It requires that we all recognize that individuals who are neither elected or removable have the capability to alter and impact our daily lives. And most importantly, it requires we all recognize that every single one of us and the beliefs and thoughts we hold may not be as uniquely ours as we would like to think. Your data is quite literally your life story and I sincerely hope that you were the only author crafting that narrative.”
It was evident to me before, but it’s blatantly obvious now. While social media algorithms serve a purpose and can be helpful in guiding you to content you would enjoy, the algorithms are run by computers. Computers aren’t as good at determining intent as humans. That’s up to us, and it’s up to social media companies to continue to moderate content.
Free Speech doesn’t mean the freedom to say whatever you want without consequences – it means you don’t have to fear repercussions from the government (like other countries do). Lies and mis/disinformation are powerful and spread like wildfire (as we’ve seen so clearly in the past two years) because people want to believe that someone is out to get them like a movie plot.
And, the more often you hear a story/lie/piece of misinformation, the more it becomes part of you:
“The power of a story. If you tell yourself a story often enough – so and so was wrong, I am right – I was not the abuser but the abused victim – Republicans are pure evil, Democrats are pure goodness and vice versa – if you tell your story often enough that narrative can live in your head and direct your paths.
Honest people strive for a transparent story that opens itself to correction.
Others protect their story so vociferously they can tolerate no other facts and they denounce even solid, strong facts as fraudulent. They realize there is too much to lose if the story changes.
A story that lives in our heads can form us; a story in our heads may be designed to preserve a new power we find in that story; but a new story can also become an act of resistance. Because some know the power of stories – their story and dismantling counter stories – they choose to surround themselves only with people who will affirm their story. It’s easier that way; you get to indwell your own bubbled story. Until the bubble bursts. Truth is a pin.”
I will continue to speak about this boldly because the future of our society depends on it. The future of our democracy depends on it. There are consequences to saying whatever you want to say without there being evidence behind the message. And it is my desperate hope that something I say will resonate with you and have an impact.