The Internet : Transformation Of Liberation To Oppression
Most of us are aware of the use of spin, advertising, propaganda, cross-branding and quite a few other subtle tricks of undue persuasion to sell a consumerist society to the masses. The purpose is to create a marriage of the mind between corporations and the people who would come to depend upon and identify with their products.
Using psychology to fuel market research and advertising to reach customers on a more potent level, society became populated with suggestible, obedient naive sheep, with critically thinking citizens becoming fewer and further between. That has never been more true than today.
The success at penetrating the minds of the masses has been so successful by advertisers, targeting unconscious desires and emotional appeal that politicians now use these campaigns for important public policy issues.
In more recent times, the public relations-laundered official version of events has become a staple substitute for reality, airing 24 hours a day on sanitized news networks and appearing in every stale scripted soundbite uttered by officials and authorities in our lives. The sham is inescapable.
Television was the preferred weapon of choice by advertisers and their clients – that has now been replaced with the internet and social media and both of them is being used that will forever forge our perception of the world. Already this so called ‘liberating power’ is failing humanity.
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The internet was supposed to free us all from meddling middlemen and allow competition and free speech to flourish. We wouldn’t need corrupt professional media makers anymore because we would all blog and tweet. Social networking would empower protesters and enhance democracy the world over.
The irony is that thanks to Snowden, we now know the Internet has become a giant government spying apparatus dependent on the complicity of companies we use everyday.
The Internet is transforming from a tool of liberation and free expression to one of oppression and control.
The darlings of this new era of communication and public power was Facebook, Twitter, Google and Amazon to name just a few. This has now been replaced with both deep suspicion and resignation that these titans of the new frontier have captured us and we can’t escape.
Meanwhile, these multi $billion companies keep expanding, buying up all the competition and staking their claim on new technological frontiers, from mobile messaging and virtual reality to home appliances and transportation.
Research in recent years suggests that Google, has amassed far more power than you would like to think. It is able to control elections—indeed, to control a wide variety of opinions and beliefs than any company in history has ever had. Google’s search algorithm can easily shift the voting preferences of undecided voters by 20 percent and up to 80 percent in some demographic groups—with virtually no one knowing they are being manipulated.
Given that many elections are won by small margins, this gives Google the power, right now, to flip upwards of 25 percent of the national elections worldwide. In the USA, half of presidential elections have been won by margins under 7.6 percent. At the 2010 UK election, David Cameron’s party was forced into a 5-year coalition and then won the next term in 2015 on a margin of 6.5 percent – easily within the capabilities of Google.
A comprehensive new study, just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), includes the results of five experiments conducted with more than 4,500 participants in two countries. Because Search Engine Manipulation Effects or SEME is virtually invisible as a form of social influence, because the effect is so large and because there are currently no specific regulations anywhere in the world that would prevent Google from using and abusing this technique, SEME is a serious threat to the democratic system of government the world over.
Google has recently announced a new ranking system that will instead use what it has determined to be ‘truth’ as its ranking tool. This Orwellian move opens the door for Google to homogenize thought and become the global arbiters of truth, with the ability to send content it declares as ‘untrue’ into the dustbin of obscurity. Who gave them that power and why do they have it?
Lobby groups representing Google, Amazon and other powerful US tech multinationals recently launched a fierce attack on global plans to stamp out artificial corporate structures used to avoid tax in the latest stage of a two-year, G20-led programme of international tax reform.
In addition, the search engine was one of a number of unnamed members of an ad hoc US lobbying body, calling itself the Digital Economy Group, which had submitted objections to earlier OECD tax reform papers.
It goes without saying that the other tech giants follow in their footsteps. Facebook manipulated the news feeds of almost 2 million American users during the 2012 presidential election without telling them. The manipulation led to a 3 percent increase in voter turnout, according to the company’s own data scientist. This was just an experiment. The Facebook study was an “in product” test designed to see how users would react with news feeds that were more prominent. And the next election?
Any government who accedes to the demands of such powerful companies will likely barter a generous tax environment for persuasive electioneering powers that keeps both at the helm, thereby creating an unassailable gulf between them and healthy competition.
Given that two out of three voters in the UK/US reportedly use social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube, researchers say that few users appreciate the ways that social media are manipulated to influence voters and affect the outcome of elections.
“Manipulation of social media affects our perception of electoral candidates,” said Wellesley College computer scientist Panagiotis Metaxas during a Science Podcast interview. “The vast majority of people using social media are just not aware of this manipulation, and as a result our decision-making can be compromised, especially at the polls.”
In the 26 October issue of Science, the researchers describe some of the ways that propagandists, in the form of spammers, deploy 21st-century weaponry like Google bombs and Twitter bombs. These programs, which skew the results of search engines and send out large quantities of tweets, have been used to influence voters in the past.
“One common form of manipulation is through our perception of candidates popularity on social media,” Metaxas explained. “We tend to think that if a candidate is more popular on, say, Facebook, or if he has more ‘friends’ and ‘likes’ than his opponents, then he probably has a greater chance of being elected. But these numbers do not really represent a random sample of the likely voters, by any means—and they get manipulated”.
Google, Facebook, and many other major social platforms, are just as dependent on the advertising dollar as their network television and newspaper predecessors. Only they are far more ubiquitous and invasive. They monitor our private thoughts and track our every move, sucking up our personal data in order to better serve corporations and governments whilst ensuring they keep immoral profits and too much power to enable an even greater Orwellian threat than we could have ever have imagined.
While we have heard a lot over the years about how the Internet can overthrow dictators in authoritarian countries (and, post-Snowden, quite a bit about how governments can harness technologies to serve their own ends), less has been said about how networked technologies shore up the wealth and power of the corporate elite who own the platforms we all depend on. In an age of increasing inequality and diminishing democracy, this is a major cause for concern. In America, just six corporations have swallowed up all of its competition over 30 years and now it controls over 90 percent of the media.
Our communications system is at a crossroads – one path leading to an increasingly authoritarian, corporatised and commercialised world, the other to a true cultural common ideal where we are nurtured as citizens and creators. The latter is highly unlikely now that the political dinosaurs have started to understand how to harness true mass manipulation and continue the democratic fraud.
Graham Vanbergen – TruePublica