A Story that’s Getting Old, Lies and Deception are Flooding All Outlets on Precipice of 2020 Election Year
Over the past few months, false videos on YouTube posing as established American news outlets have garnered millions of views. Selling themselves as CNN or Fox News, these fake accounts present inflammatory and fabricated content to their viewers, effectively deceiving the American public by spreading misinformation.
The Google-owned YouTube says they have taken down as many of these videos as it can, but companies such as CNN insist that the website needs to do more to proactively inhibit such activity. After all, the source of the problem is rooted deep within the very fiber that keeps YouTube (and the current monopolized Internet as a whole) running.
What is really going on in the YouTube case is an exploitation of two fundamental aspects of the Internet. Namely, these fake accounts are taking advantage of the web’s free ranging platform, and they are manipulating the data-based algorithms that keep the Internet efficiently feeding billions in ad revenue to the platforms like, google search, YouTube, Facebook and Amazon.
The web’s “free” policy refers to the fact that anyone can post anything on the Internet, although “free” in this case is a deceiving concept. Long before the Internet was a global phenomenon, the system was built upon a somewhat libertarian foundation where all users had equal access and unrestricted contribution power to information. The potential fault in this model, however, is that there is little accountability or security. As we are seeing today, with so much unchecked info, lying becomes easy and the line between true and false greys.
Algorithms are the Gatekeepers, Automation for Advertising Dollars
As for the algorithms, websites like YouTube, Google, Amazon, Facebook, and so on, depend on formulas that learn more about you the more you use them. A term that is gradually beginning to become more important but not yet fully understood, an algorithm is a set of instructions, managed by Artificial Intelligence.
The key point is that the companies mentioned above maintain total secrecy as to the settings of the algorithm, however, by viewing the public results it is clear that in all cases the algorithm is programmed to benefit advertisers, and thereby increase profits for the companies.
As per wikipedia:
“In mathematics and computer science, an algorithm is a finite sequence of well-defined, computer-implementable instructions, typically to solve a class of problems or to perform a computation. Algorithms are unambiguous specifications for performing calculation, data processing, automated reasoning, and other tasks.”
This is how YouTube recommends videos for you, Facebook shows you suggested posts, Amazon advertises things that fit your taste, and Google can anticipate your searches before you even type anything in. It is based mostly off of your previous use—your activity provides data that these tech companies manipulate, own and sell (which you unwittingly agreed to by clicking the ubiquitous “terms of service” agreement).
However, as the access to Internet platforms, and therefore the ability to interact with others, has become a virtual monopoly controlled by the platforms, the ethics surrounding data rights and algorithms have become less clear.
Most Internet users have allowed access to their personal information in some way or another. Through “free” email accounts, social media, messages, pictures, purchases, and so on, your entire identity is encrypted somewhere in the cybernetic ether, and you have little control over it.
The consequences of this go beyond just getting offered offensive videos or unsolicited ads. The companies that made the bogus CNN accounts, for example, cleverly played YouTube’s algorithms so you would be redirected there after watching legitimate news stories. Because the majority of people consume news through their computers, fake news and real news have become increasingly difficult to distinguish.
More and More Political Manipulators are Gaming the Algos
Moreover, these misleading accounts are not always coming from Internet trolls. Some of them are run by malicious enterprises or foreign governments trying to influence geopolitical processes. Such was the case behind the now well known, infamous case of Cambridge Analytica’s interference in the 2016 Presidential Election.
Cambridge Analytica—a British political consulting firm—marketed for the Trump campaign using people’s Facebook data. At the height of the campaign, the company allegedly consulted with Russian officials to assist in Trump’s eventual election.
Due to the algorithmic control of websites like Facebook, once Cambridge Analytica had information on a single user, it was able to acquire information on every person that that single user ever interacted with online. Via just a handful of connections, the company was able to quickly collect data on nearly the entire nation. Thus, even if you avoided all of Cambridge Analytica’s tricks, you could still be targeted through just a few degrees of separation.
There is really no way of knowing who Facebook is sharing your data with or how they are using it. In fact, you don’t even know what your own data is, as most websites bar their users from accessing the very information that they provide. The only way to find out how you are being targeted is by consuming the suggested version of yourself that these tech companies feed back to you.
The situation is certainly eerie on a personal level, but it also transcends the individual to impact phenomena on a far greater scale. With the Trump administration as evidence, Cambridge Analytica’s approach obviously worked in some capacity. Likewise, businesses and organizations can manipulate data to promote their version of the world. Through the unrestricted world of the Internet, powerful users can alter history, conflate truths, and shape the American psyche into thinking whatever they deem real.
Certain sectors of the government have been working to try and fix this problem. Mark Zuckerberg has gone before Congress to answer for Facebook’s place in the Cambridge Analytica case. Likewise, the California Consumer Privacy Act will take effect on January 1st, giving people greater personal data rights in the Golden State.
Don’t expect the companies mentioned above, having a combined market value of more than $3 trillion, to cooperate or rein in this problem voluntarily. This algorithmic dictatorship benefits criminals like those that were behind the Trump election meddling, but most of all the system benefits the platforms themselves, at a level that is mind-bogglingly obscene. This system will change only when they are broken up or gone.
Data is the most profitable resource on the planet (recently topping oil), and it is because of our data inputs that Google and Facebook, among others, remain “free” websites. The real price for online “services” like search and social platforms is very high indeed and users are getting scammed out of more than they may realize.
Ultimately, like in politics and life itself, it is the masses, the users themselves in this case, that can decide if they want an algorithmic dictatorship, or if it is time to sweep away the current dysfunctional system and replace it with one where the price is not so steep.
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