By JEFF LUND
October 04, 2020
This recent clarity came after watching The Social Dilemma, a documentary on Netflix in which the engineers who designed parts, or helped run some of the leading social media and search platforms, reveal what they’ve done. Not on purpose, but humans are in the business of weapon-izing even the most well-intended inventions and the Internet is no exception.
The harm isn’t just feeling sad or inadequate (the suicide increase among 10 to 14-year-old girls is sickening) or me using a product, it’s about turning me and my data into the product, propagandists turning a manipulated me into a delivered vote. As computer scientist Jaron Lanier says in the documentary, it’s the rewiring of my system and small, imperceptible changes in my actions that can be predicted and then monetized.
It’s not as easy as turning off the radio when a political advertisement comes on, it’s that all content fed to me online is based on previous clicks, likes and views. It’s like having my own personal news service delivered through social media and Google, by algorithms that are designed to provide me with content that is in line with my world view, then proceeding to move that linefurther and further to keep me engaged and, in doing so, manipulating my world view with unchecked content of questionable authenticity. I knew this before, but now, I know it.
It is a wolf doing what a wolf does.
But we can live with wolves. A wolf isn’t going to break into my home or go out of its way to engage me. It’s only a problem when I engage it. I know that it may sound super naïve given that one former social media executive believes this could all culminate in a civil war, but there has to hope. And that hope doesn’t start with, “See, I told you, you were being manipulated by Fake News!” It has to start with me.
If I find myself replacing my real world and real people with stories about places and people I’ll never visit and never know, that’s when the algorithms have me. That’s when the Artificial Intelligence designed to feed me things that are of most interest to me have created a specialized reality that does not really exist as I think it does. Be informed, but with a filter knowing algorithms don’t teach or enlighten. They give me what I want to hear and work most efficiently when I am a glutton for information, no matter how fabricated, that appeals to my world view. I have to be skeptical. I can’t become a sucker.
There is no conscience in a computer, and if unchecked, it will change me into someone I never intended to be. It will connect me with factions that demand I swear allegiance. Choose a side. There can be no middle. Compromise is weak.
The hope comes in what I see at the store, when someone opens the door for me, the polite checker instructs me to have a nice day, or a nice lady temporarily halts traffic on Tongass to let me make a left. Those are real people in the real world.
The colleagues with whom I eat lunch (six feet apart) and discuss things are real people discussing real things the way we had to before social media conditioned us to salivate with anger at the sight of a particular hat, sticker, flag or pin.
I will not delete or unplug. I will continue to be active on social media and the Internet.
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