“Power always learns, and powerful tools always fall into its hands. This is a hard lesson of history but a solid one. It is a key to understanding how, in seven years, digital technologies have gone from being hailed as tools of freedom and change to being blamed for upheavals in Western democracies-for enabling increased polarization, rising authoritarianism, and meddling in national elections by Russia and others” -Zeynep Tufekci
Taking a big jump from one serious topic to another, this week we took a look at social media and the “behind the scenes” of how there are certain aspects to it that we should be looking out for. The article, “How Social Media took us from Tahrir Square to Donald Trump” by Zeynep Tufekci (https://www.technologyreview.com/s/611806/how-social-media-took-us-from-tahrir-square-to-donald-trump/), brought to the light a lot of views of social media and politics that I certainly have never thought about before. Tufekci states, “to understand how digital technologies went from instruments for spreading democracy to weapons for attacking it, you have to look beyond the technologies themselves.” I thought this was interesting because when you look at the history of social media sites such as Twitter, the original purpose of it was to be used as an instrument. This ties into the discussion we had a couple of weeks ago about globalization. With the use of social media, globalization there is a great platform available but unfortunately has been abused and used for the “bickering of parties.”
Tufekci brought up a new term that I will gladly add to my “education dictionary,” which is “pluralistic ignorance.” She describes it simply as this, “the belief that one is alone in one’s views when in reality everyone has been collectively silenced.” She believes this is the reason why social media has “fomented” rebellion. She continues to discuss Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 elections and how the digital platform affected it. There were three ingredients that played a part in it were social media, voter profiling, and microtargeting. The positive side to it was that these digital platforms allowed certain communities and groups to come together in a different and new way. After reading this section, the question I thought about was how Barack Obama’s elections would be different if they were not in a social media world?
“Rather, the problem is that when we encounter opposing views in the age and context of social media, it’s not like reading them in a newspaper while sitting alone. It’s like hearing them from the opposing team while sitting with our fellow fans in a football stadium” -Tufekci
Going from the article to her TED Talk “We’re Building a Dystopia just to make People Click on Ads,” expanded more on this topic. After watching the TED Talk, my views on social media changed. (Certainly creeped me out as well). Tufekci broke down the algorithms of Facebook and Youtube. Also, about the danger of artificial intelligence in the wrong hands. Her details about this were shocking and disturbing. She related the algorithms to the candy and gum placed near the checkout counter at the eye level of children for the parents to buy it for them. Specifically focusing on Youtube, it has a certain algorithm that picks up on what you think you would watch next. A personal example that she gave was when she was doing research on a Donald Trump rally. Youtube then suggested in the column “White Supremacists” videos. The more she clicked on the next one, the more extreme the videos became. That is how someone gets caught in the cycle of watching one video to watching thirty videos.
The last part that really shook me was how Trump’s media manager described how they targeted African American males not to vote. (Yes! You read that correctly). There is an algorithm actually convincing African American males NOT to vote. The reason why this shook me was that there are already restrictions that African American males have when it comes to not voting for various reasons that I can’t discuss further right now, but to actual target, such an influential group of people not to vote is…shall I say…evil.
Why was social media created in the first place? Were there any good intentions behind it or is it all a huge scam? Tufekci emphasizes that “we are the product that’s being sold.” We need to preserve our minds and intelligence. I leave you all with this, think about your social media. What is your platform used for? Can change actually be made or are we too deep in for change? My new definition of “social media”, a digital platform for reconstructing the ideas of globalization in politics, personal, and predominant ideas.
“What we need to fear most is not what artificial intelligence will do on its own, but how the people in power will use artificial intelligence to control us and to manipulate us in novel, sometimes hidden, subtle, and unexpected ways” –Zeynep Tufekci.