The rise of Big Tech platforms has resulted in data being able to move much faster and much less transparently. This has given rise to a paradigm in which these companies themselves rival the power of countries. This leads us to question if this Big Tech economic model, based on the commodification of social influence, compatible with the sustainability of democracy?
In social science when the number of social information increases, the collective dynamics gain momentum, grow in scale, and become less predictable. Large groups of people will, for example, try to buy the same thing or follow a populist leader. As such if you have all the data on the behavior of a population, you are more likely to accurately anticipate the direction of these collective movements when the level of social information rises. This is, for example, what enables Amazon to predict how well a book is likely to sell and adjust its logistics accordingly.
HOW DOES DATA PERSONALIZATION WORK?
In fact, when you engage with a big tech platform such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc. You are not giving your dollars, you are giving your data, it’s a barter transaction. you don’t really know what you are giving up, it has some value, and it particularly has some value when it’s correlated throughout the course of a day or a week or a lifetime, and then pooled with other people’s data.
You would think that you are not paying anything; except that we are paying something as individuals and as a society. We are giving the tech giants our data! As we move around on the internet and in the real world, we are being continually tracked and profiled for the purpose of showing targeted
Big Tech and digital marketers use this information to track us over time and across devices, in order to create comprehensive profiles about individual consumers. In turn, these profiles and groups can be used to personalize and target advertising, but also for other purposes such as discrimination, manipulation, and exploitation.
THE BIG TECH ECONOMIC MODEL FAVORS DISINFORMATION
As the major digital platforms‘ business model puts the economic factor as their benchmark for controlling the circulation of information in our societies, this business model is harmful to the people and journalism at a time when levels of misinformation, polarization, and political trolling are at an all-time high.
According to the Global Disinformation Index, at least $235 million in revenue is generated annually from ads which run on extremist and disinformation websites. Although more technology is working to verify results (like the fact-checking on Facebook), and/or has stopped ads on political content, anyone with a basic knowledge of search engine optimization or social media marketing has the opportunity to still influence the algorithms organically.
Just a basic understanding of how algorithms, machine learning, personalization data, and manipulation techniques work can help you influence the organic results. Extremists and populist movements benefit from this ‘manipulability’ of our informational environment in the virtual and social networks as well as the weakness of our institutions, which puts our democracy at risk by favoring content with false information!
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