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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The powers wielded by search engines and social media

It seems to me that it's increasingly becoming a frightening new world that we live in.
Back when the internet was merely nascent, I was studying psychology in college: numerous examples hammered home to me the notion that we, collectively, are easily manipulable, emotionally, cognitively, and that our memories are scarily labile, too.
Over three years ago, I'd blogged about Google+ increasing its reach, which has since apparently been adopted by many more people. Sure, a small fraction of its estimated 2.2 billion + account holders are publicly posting content - but Google has access to all the trackable behaviours of everyone who remains authenticated, not to mention numerous third party cookies and ways metrics are being recorded.
Last summer, amongst other topics I'd read the coverage on Facebook's 1-week, 700K user experiment on emotional contagion, which is well summarized in the Atlantic.
Then, about a week ago, another piece was brought to my attention (thanks to my spouse) about Google and Facebook's inherent power to manipulate election outcomes.
In the intervening time, topics like #gamergate (Forbes offered a good op/ed piece on this whereas I, a presumed SJW, have remained silent mostly due to lacking even a passing familiarity with the gaming community), the #jianghomeshi trial, and currently, the US elections related buzz, have taken over my newsfeeds.
In fact, simply reading the above linked articles from the Atlantic, Forbes, and Aeon should provoke so much thought without my editorializing, that I wondered whether it was worth attempting to blog about these subjects at all. Furthermore, as an internet specialist of sorts, it occurs to me also, that keeping a neutral stance on these topics (as well as Apple's open letter to their customers) may well be prudent.
However, I do feel compelled to ask these questions of myself, and I would strongly encourage everyone to do the same:
  • Am I seeking and finding balanced and/or impartial coverage of world events before arriving at a personal stance thereon?
  • How credible are the sources that provide the news that I consume? How do you decide whether a source is credible?
  • Do I make an effort to validate content before I share them with my friends and followers?
  • Do I exercise critical thinking when I read something?

Just today, Facebook launched "reactions" buttons. Now we're providing them with even more data, willingly and perhaps unthinkingly, and making further newsfeed algorithm experiments even more fine-tuned. Wasn't this so considerate of the design team, accommodating such a significant feature request?
But remember:

Geek&Poke cartoon: "if something is free it means you are the product."
Meme courtesy of Geek&Poke

About Mayo

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Professional: As "Senior Enterprise SEO Strategist" in IBM's Digital Marketing division, I provide consulting and training services for both internal and external clients. Formerly I was involved in Natural Language Processing, software localization, quality assurance and documentation authoring.
Personal: INTJ Nikkei Nisei ex-patriated Canadian who takes photographs and enjoys Baroque through late Classical music. The G+ page shares some of the "best of" photos.