Information Distribution In The Age Of Algorithms – (Part 3 – Naivety In The Collective Understanding Of Social Media Intentions)

Naivety In The Collective Understanding Of Social Media Intentions

Given the previous section that we covered, one can’t help but wonder if my opening statements were a tad naive. How is this the media paradigm of the masses if the main control mechanisms still remain with a few powerful entities?

Its an excellent observation and a very good question.

Having had some time to ponder all of this stuff for the past few years, it’s hard not to conclude that mass public naivety isn’t part of the equation. We saw it when WikiLeaks exposed the NSA mass surveillance dragnet and in any of the many privacy-related uproars of recent years. Many people dumping all manner of metadata into the public domain, but then being horrified that someone (or more realistically, some entity) can connect the dots.

Indeed, part of this is on the vast majority of internet users not fully grasping the true depth of online interaction. When that is an obvious blind spot in education systems and digital technology training courses worldwide, I can’t remove all blame from fully capable adult users.

There is a shared naivety surrounding all things tech, and it permeates much of society (societies, really). Much of this stems from the high esteem for which most of us view most tech companies. Having paved the way for this modern day user-driven content revolution (not to mention the cutting edge research also funded by such entities), the glossy and shiny Cool factor is understandable. None the less, one is well served to not forget that these corporations exist to serve the same purpose as any other. They exist to extract profit for a set of stakeholders, be it a private individual (or a small group) or a large base of stockholders. Since none of us are paying to use such services (and many of us refuse, as evidenced by fake chain posts of years gone by), it’s the data that they are extracting. Data that most of us are happy to give away freely.

Fortunately, there is some improvement on this front. NOT in how the companies fundamentally operate. More, in terms of the public awareness of some of the consequences of playing so fast and loose with sharing our every want and desire. While people like me could write hypothetical scenarios and note how algorithms seemed to artificially shape worldviews in unsuspecting people, few could argue with the public display of mass manipulation VIA social media as demonstrated by the major election campaigns of 2016. The year when my previously stated concerns as pertaining to the individual level suddenly became a whole lot more series than I had ever dreamed. While I had foreseen lack of participation in regional and localized politics (due to algorithms prioritizing the more profitable national and international material), mass manipulation didn’t even cross my mind. And since all of this is still young, this is but the tip of the iceberg.

To conclude this short section, I will start with the seemingly obvious. Stop viewing silicon valley corporations any differently than you would any other. Whilst they may play up the same shiny and glossy appearance as the products they market, they are also prone to some very traditional corporate issues such as:

– monopolization

– rampant and forceful friction against union organization

– Unsafe or inhospitable working conditions

– Unfairly biased decision making (sexism, racism, etc)

– questionable practices by outsourced labour manufacturers

That list is missing many more, along with some newly noted problems stemming from the technology itself. One of the more obvious of those being the misuse of human psychology knowledge as a way to keep users attention on a given app. Considering how many adults pester the young about being seemingly glued to their smartphones, it’s worthwhile to consider exactly WHY that is.

Since data and attention are big currencies in today’s digital marketplace:

1.) Am I getting paid enough for the data I am sharing?

2.) Is it problematic that a company that runs an app utilized by primarily young people to send filtered photos to one another has an IPO (initial public offering)?

If it sounds like madness, it may very well be.

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