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Saturday, October 23, 2021
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Useful Idiots, Conspiracy Theories and the Death of Critical Thinking

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The current global pandemic has induced a stress which has shown us many things. One clear revelation is that how people have responded to the pandemic says more about them than anything about the pandemic itself. There are sharp divisions among groups of people as each group hardens their views around their biases. What is clear is that the beliefs people have are rarely challenged by information that could undermine their beliefs. How is that possible?

It is clear that when there is a huge of amount of information around a topic, there is a bias towards believing information that reinforces biases rather than opposes them. Those who are “doing their own research”, often fall pray to only accepting information that is congruent with their own pre-existing beliefs. This kind of “research” is really advocacy for a point of view and nothing more.

A very common occurrence on social media is the recruitment of “useful idiots”. These are the folks who mindlessly (and lazily) re-post information that triggers them in some way.  Very often they are just becoming a useful idiot in someone else’s marketing scheme.

As I have noted in other posts, conspiracy theory is not a very useful term. However it has come to mean information that is divergent from the majority view on a particular topic. Therefore, it may be reasonable or can be completely idiotic, hence the “value” of said information is only that it is not what most people believe. Be aware of those who promote these so-called conspiracy theories, since frequently they have no interest in truth but are primarily driven by self-interest and self-promotion.

Please allow me to present an antidote to the prevalent paucity of quality information. Here are a few principles that are hopefully useful.

Critical Thinking Principles for Information Sources

  • No information source is perfect but some information sources are vastly superior to others.
    • Choose information sources that have consistent high reliability.
    • Evaluate an information source based on what they are presenting now and how accurate or valuable they have been in the past.
  • An information source should be evaluated related to both correctness and completeness
    • Correctness – is the information accurate? How accurate is it on a scale of 1 to 10.
    • Completeness – is all of the information pertaining to a particular topic being presented. If not, what is missing (and perhaps why)?
  • Use multiple quality information sources to evaluate information that is being presented.
    • Never rely on a single information source.
  • Secondary sources of information (eg. reposting on Facebook) are less reliable than primary sources of information (the original source of the information).
    • Facebooks memes are not information. Many of these memes are the information equivalent of throwing stones at others you disagree with.
  • Information sources that are driving hidden agendas should not be trusted. This happens with many of the proponents of controversial conspiracy theories,  since controversy creates buzz and  an audience for those marketing products and services. This group is particularly scurrilous since they care little about the public interest and are driven by pure self-interest.
  • Quality data sources are valuable, however look directly at the data and form your own opinions. Information sources tend to provide both data and opinions on the data. Data is more reliable than opinions on the data.
  • Information can be misrepresented by cherry-picking the data. This is most often done by providing anecdotal evidence for or against a particular hypothesis. Nothing can be concluded from anecdotes except that those who present them are being manipulative. This is very common in mass media sources.
  • Avoid reactively rejecting a particular information source if they get something wrong. Making mistakes is inevitable, so look at the entire history of the source to evaluate reliability.
  • Information is evolutionary and may change over time. This is acceptable as long as the “change” is not simply driven by expedience rather than by the review and integration of new data.
  • Understand the difference between an information source and a means of communicating information. YouTube is not an information source it is a means of communication. The information source is the individual or the organization that is presenting the information, no matter what medium they choose for a presentation. For example, you might find the same information source presenting information on a website, Facebook, YouTube or in a publication. Irrespective of the means of communication the information source remains the same.

Just say No to Driving Passports!

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The government is trying to control us! You think those vaccine passports are bad? Think again!
Just the other day I had to renew my drivers license. I was forced to take a medical exam they called a “vision test”.

I then had to reveal the results of that test, i.e. my personal medical information, to government agents in order to get my driver’s license. If I don’t do that I can’t drive to the restaurant, the bar, church or even a rodeo!

This has to stop our freedoms are on the line!

It gets worse, these government bastards have even erected signs and signals at intersections in my neighbourhood to control when I can or cannot proceed! Our freedoms are at stake!

Tell me why these government pricks should tell me I can only drive on one side of the road. My tax dollars paid for that road, so I should damn well be able to drive on the left hand side if I so choose!

Don’t even get me started on one way streets.

We are at a crisis, time for action, this must stop!

The Tick Tock of Time

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You spend the first period of life on offense, the second period in sports that may not be sports and the last period playing defense. When old Harold was a pup, he was indestructible and bounced back from an assortment of injuries. Nothing too serious with the odd sprain and cut requiring stitches. I did, however, play most of a year of hockey with a sore thumb, but was assured by my dad if I could move it, it wasn’t broken. A couple years later when I Bruce Lee-ed a board and cracked a bone in my hand, an x-ray revealed my thumb pain had been due to a break. Apparently, this is why your relatives should never do your doctoring. I guess my most painful injury was also hockey related. Before the age of plexiglass, I was playing a game in Bashaw and got checked backwards over the boards and sprung a few ribs away from my spine. Painful at the time, but more so on the bus ride home with every bump in the road. The next day, an early morning Drs appointment had me face down on the floor, hands applied to either side of my back and on an outbreath, everything got popped back in place. Instant relief.

I was by no means the Evil Knievel of the family. That position is clearly held by my oldest brother who still seems to enjoy hospital food. His worst was a two-day event. We started hockey a little late, and because he was a few years older he was grouped with bigger and more experienced players. To catch up we were enrolled in summer hockey school. His group was loaded with guys getting tuned up for junior hockey tryouts. One day when my other brother and I came back from land training, we were informed our older brother went to the hospital with a hand injury. A slash had broken his right thumb metacarpal. The next day he found he could get his hockey glove over his cast, so he went on the ice again, and when we came back from land training we were informed he’d been taken by ambulance to the hospital with a leg injury. The boards in the arena were made up of two by sixes, and when he got checked, his skate got stuck in the boards, but the guy on top of him and the rest of his body kept on going. This time, surgeons unloaded the hardware store on his ankle including an assortment of plates, pins and screws. I almost know what that felt like, as a few years later I was chasing a cow, and when she zigged I zigged and stepped in a gopher hole and blew all the tendons and ligaments in my ankle. I got dragged off to the hospital and while waiting for an x-ray I was sitting beside a guy with a sprained ankle. The Dr came by, and the guy asked if he could have something for the pain. The Dr gave him a stern lecture on abusing pain medication. The Dr then asked how I was doing, and although I was still in a lot of pain, I said I was OK. Little did I know things were about to get worse when they took an x-ray then said they needed another one with my ankle flopped over as far as it could go to assess how bad it was. It was bad enough to require surgery, but because I’d sprained it badly a few months earlier playing frisbee, they skipped the surgery and stuck me in a cast for 6 weeks.

The next phase of my life cycle was marked by a series of self-inflicted golf injuries. After taking the game up more seriously, my poor technique and curvaceous mid-section gradually took its toll on my back culminating at a tournament with back spasms and getting carted off the course to my car. Trips to the Dr and physio netted very little, but relief was found with deep tissue massage. Now, however, every time I look at my clubs, I get twinges of back pain. This brought on more of a defensive mode while edging into my declining years. Every snap-crackle-pop, skipped heart beat or bowel movement trigger fears my warranty is up and the big one is just around the corner. During these times, however, I seek comfort in the wise words of an old-time golfer I used to play with. When asked how he was doing one afternoon, he said “Just great!! Every time I wake up, reach out and don’t touch wood I know it’s going to be a good day”. So, if I may impart my own words of wisdom…as you advance in age both a good massage and Restoralax will work wonders for you, but must be applied at least 24 hours apart.

Election Fever

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In the next couple months we’ll be whipped into a frenzy by election fever. The Canadian Political Wrestling Federation will hold televised debates showing who can sling mud the fastest while ducking questions about trivial matters such as ethics, groping, and how to pay bills with unicorn farts. We will once again be treated to the special feeling of cheering our candidates until the poles close, two hours after the election has been decided. All this with the backdrop of a mediocre harvest for some and outright crop failure for others. A time for thanksgiving indeed.

In the shire of greater Lacombe, the Conservative candidate Blaine Calkins is the odds-on favorite to represent us again. Whether that’s in opposition or opposition to the opposition is yet to be determined. It will be interesting to see, however, it the government will further embrace trends to work from home and attend parliament and committees electronically, thus saving on travel expenses and greenhouse gas emissions. By the way, who coined the phrase ‘greenhouse gas emissions’? Greenhouses are typically filled with growing plants churning out oxygen, aren’t they? Parliament on the other hand seems to churn out carbon dioxide as morons capture oxygen while making decisions that affect all with unbalanced fairness.

If I might be so bold as to make a prediction. The Maritimes with their dependence on social programs will go red, Quebec will split between the block and red, the rest will be blue in rural ridings and cities under 100,000 and the bigger cities will go mostly red with a smattering of orange. Who will govern will be decided shortly after the poles close in Ontario and if there is a majority, it will be by the slimiest of margins.

I’m wondering what it would take for a clear majority as there’s been a lot of foul-smelling water under the bridge the last few years with questionable accounting by the accountable. What might appear to be good ammunition will, however, likely go off in opposition faces as they lead with offensives with what will likely be offensive to those they are trying to woo. In a world where some find logic in the illogical, I guess it’s fitting the dollar is no longer secured by gold, and the truth that matters is no longer absolute but defined by those in power.

Let the political mud wrestling begin. Old Harold has a sensitive gag reflex, so he’ll be avoiding all things political until election night.

Gardening

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gardening

Gardens are a time-honoured tradition, which in the past served to nourish larger families than there are now and save on grocery bills. Victory gardens played important roles during wartime to help families be more self-sufficient and less affected by shortages or supply interruptions. Today with year-round availability of produce, some of which is reasonably priced, and lack of generational hand down of gardening skills, many people forego putting in a garden particularly when living in apartments or condos. I put in a garden because it’s a pleasant pastime and helps connect with my neighbors. As a struggling novice it gives me some appreciation for difficulties encountered by farmers. A crop loss or screwup for a small plot gardener can be easily fixed by a trip to a greenhouse, but for farmers, screwups could mean physical, mental and financial peril. Working in the garden also gives me some appreciation for what it took to settle the land the way my Grandpa did with a horse, plow and sod hut in southwestern Saskatchewan. Transplant me back about 115 years, emigrating from Europe to the bald prairie to stake a claim, and farming by horse-power, I’d give myself about 2 years before I’d kick the bucket. Lying here in my air-conditioned house on a warm day makes me wonder if I have any genes left that would kick in if I was forced to live off the land.

I can usually get stuff to grow in my garden, and many of my neighbors have complimented me yearly. The truth is I was fortunate to buy a place where the previous owner put in some really nice topsoil, and because I have no fence, I get maximum sun exposure. This year might, however, break my string of nice-looking gardens. This year I could be facing a blotchy looking garden overrun with weeds. This year out of laziness I bought a seeder, with a wheel in front and back, one of which drives a seed dispenser which drops seed into a row then gets covered up. My problem is my garden isn’t big enough for the seeder, and one or two packs of seeds barely fills the bottom of the reservoir. Now as the seedlings start to pop up, I’ve got some almost full rows, some patchy rows and some rows that did not come in at all. Cap this off with birds diving in to eat the pea and bean seeds, and I’ve got a crop failure the likes of which has not been seen since the dirty 30’s. But like any other red blooded Canadian with disposable income, I’ll likely be headed to the greenhouse for bedding plants, and sneak out late in the evening (after my neighbors have gone to bed) and fill in all the spaces.

Truthfully, I’m a bit surprised I put in a garden. As a kid we had a large garden. Looking after it took some work, and summer holidays always depended on whether we’d finished weeding. The garden was rototilled to start the season with an 8 HP tiller that was designed more to shake the operator than scratch the ground. During harvest, myself and siblings would dig and pluck for days to get the potatoes, carrots and other vegetables in, and my Mom would spend days and nights getting things washed up and either dumped in bins, canned or frozen. On top of this we also harvested a few different types of crab and baking apples for jellies, sauces and pies. One year, however, Dad decided to make (hard) apple cider and bought a grinder, cider press and an oak barrel. We filled the 45 gallon barrel, and much of that winter is kind of sketchy for me as trips to the basement often meant popping the bung from the barrel and siphoning off enough for a healthy glow. Kind of makes me wonder how many apple trees I could fit in my garden, as it would certainly cut down on weeding, and might reap both tremendous social rewards and financial savings. Even if things turned sour, I could set up a roadside stand selling organic apple cider vinegar.

WTO to Discuss IP rights for Vaccines

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In my opinion, one of the unfortunate side effects of the global pandemic is that Big Pharma can now posture as the savior of humanity. Given the past behavior of some major pharmaceutical companies, they have shown themselves to be more concerned with aggressive marketing of their products rather than optimizing the health of humanity.

The World Trade Organization will be discussing the intellectual property rights of vaccine manufacturers. The concern over these intellectual property rights is that they impede the rapid manufacturing and distribution of vaccines, particularly in countries which have the most dire need. They will discuss whether the waiving of these rights will enhance the fight against the current pandemic.

A pdf of the proposed agenda for today (May 5th, 2021) is attached.

IPCW669

The Art of Laziness

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The art of laziness is best appreciated as a solo endeavor. As a kid, my efforts to practice the art were thwarted by a psychotic older brother with whom I shared a room. From the rare sleepovers Cinder-Harold was allowed on, I discovered Saturday mornings were the quintessential time for practicing laziness, as my friends were allowed to lay in bed to awaken to wafting fragrances of bacon and pancakes, with an option to partake only if they wanted. At my house, Mom would call for breakfast faintly enough for my brother to hear, but not loud enough for me. I’d lay in bed, to be awakened by my brother’s threads, not wanting to be whisked away to the farm to do all the chores (i.e. cleaning a week’s worth of horse stalls and hauling feed). Defcon 2 sounded when he’d sprint up the stairs to personalize his threats. On rare occasions when I’d challenge his bluff, Defcon 3 meant head shots and hair pulling until screams were quietened by royal decree to acquiesce to my brother’s demands. Only once did my efforts result in being able to sleep in, except when sick, but that’s another story.

These days, true laziness can only be expressed through mindful meditation, which allows detachment from procrastination. A couple of deep breaths, wiggle the toes, and progressive relaxation to unconsciousness before awakening to a moist towelette on your cheek (aka spit soaked pillowcase). Ideal laziness can only be achieved if you have nothing to do. The thread of work is enough to ruin the experience, and one has to be careful to never fill in all the dates on your refrigerator calendar. To achieve true balance for the things you have to do, you must find time to centre yourself to do nothing, and counterbalance with pleasurable activities. Indeed, some of the laziest moments I’ve achieved have been on the golf course where I’ve swapped my feelings of procrastination with the bliss of one pure strike out of 100. Sadly though, the 99 blows of frustration often lead me to question if there’s a better use for my time. Thankfully, my ruminations are short lived as I focus mindfully on my friends mounting scores, tortuous profanity and the odd helicopter club launched into a water hazard.

It is true that some of the least lazy people are medical doctors. High achieving individuals with calendars packed with appointments to cure humanity. It’s little wonder the AMA hasn’t endorsed the Art of Laziness to promote longevity. How many times have you heard of a type A personality taking the retirement plunge, keeping their foot on the gas and shifting into neutral? They lose their sense of purpose, and keel over when their neural gyroscopes go off kilter and scramble their noggins. You cannot lose purpose if you have no purpose, which is the central tenant to the Art of Laziness…with one corollary….you must move enough to ensure all your parts keep working. Your body has to be primed and toned to do things like get up out of a chair to avoid the downhill slide from fat and sassy to ashes and dust. In similarity to the hypocritic oath, however, you must do no harm. The only proper way to work up a sweat is lazily consuming spicey Tai food with a cold beer. Be lazy my friends…peace out. May they find your body in pristine condition when you achieve perfect stasis.

Spring has Sprung

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Determining how spring has sprung is a lot different these days. When I was a kid, it was when you’d get soaked dragging across a pasture of half melted manure trying to treat scouring calves. Winter boots were swapped for gumboots. The water would run, and overnight freezes would glaze over puddles ideal for jumping on. Water running brought out the inner beaver, constructing dams of gravel dumped on roads over the winter. Holes in your gumboots were soon discovered, and icy water would soak your feet as you tested the limits of your boot tops. The air, as always, became rich with rotting fragrances awaiting burn off by the sun.

One spring day in the early 70’s, the family were assembled, except for Dad, for a trip to Edmonton. I forget the occasion, but we were decked out in good clothes waiting for Dad. We waited….and….waited and decided to pass the time visiting a nearby slough swelling with runoff. It had a plank fence running through the middle, and a few boards scattered around, which we stacked up to push into the slough. We climbed along the planks pushing the stacked boards out further and further, then decided to test the buoyancy of our ‘trusty raft’. It almost held up one of us, but not the second or third as the car horn signalled Dad’s arrival. We scrabbled to shore and dumped out boots while standing in sock feet on half frozen mud. A foot squeaking sprint to the farmyard amid laughter was met with the glare…the glare that meant our journey would be delayed slightly for a quick round of corporal punishment. One by one tuning was dispensed with and all three were lined up together. The oldest was close in receiving little velocity, brother two in the middle stepped forward just enough not to catch anything, and myself, furthest out, experienced the wrap around. A winter full of “I’ll give you something to cry about” came to fruition.

These days there are no calves to catch, and I don’t even own rubber boots. Spring is signalled by the out of washer fluid light on my dash and snow melting to reveal what’s left-over from my fall cleanup. The memories of splash-dash-lash still, however, pervade my thoughts as the stench of a winter’s worth of dog poop thaws in the back yard to clear my sinuses.

How to be a Useful Idiot

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Given the rise in various “conspiracy theories” around the current pandemic and those who have been caught up in them, it is time for some explanation around how this happens and why.

I would like to dedicate this article to well meaning people who have become useful idiots in the promotion of various conspiracy theories.

I have written a related article on this topic about a new marketing technique called “Conspiracy Theory Marketing“. This article addresses a related topic, but focusses more on those who have become “useful idiots” in this process. For the purpose of this article a “useful idiot” is defined as someone who is often well meaning but does not recognize how they are being manipulated and used by a marketing campaign.

A rather nefarious technique used by vendors who seek to promote their products and/or services is to hijack genuine desires in a demographic to self-promote. This is achieved by targeting a demographic with ad campaigns that appear, at least superficially, to support their genuine desires and then present a product or service that offers fulfillment for those desires. This is at its core, highly dishonest, since frequently the product or service being promoted is either harmful or offers no real value to those being duped.

There is a long history of such activities primarily executed by marketing agencies. Here are a few examples from tobacco companies:

  • The Virginia Slims ad campaign was created to encourage more women to smoke since this demographic was seen by tobacco companies as an untapped resource of new customers since at the time, smoking was primarily a male habit. They did this by hijacking the genuine desire of women to be empowered to have more self-determination. They were successful and increased emphysema and lung cancer rates in women.
  • Another campaign from big tobacco was dubbed “The Marlboro Man Campaign.” This campaign was designed to reinforce the desire of males to appear more masculine and of course this would be achieved by smoking. As above, the great success of this campaign lead to more smoking and hence more emphysema and lung cancer in men.
  • A current campaign that is being run by tobacco company Rothmans Benson and Hedges is an “unsmoke” campaign which captures the genuine desire of people to quit smoking and then offers them their new line of products which include vaping devices and supplies. How this will shake out is yet to be seen.

There a many more examples of these techniques. The new version of these campaigns hijacks those who feel the “establishment” wishes to control them and to direct their behavior to promote hidden agendas. They are not completely wrong about that, since there are forces at work that are driven by self-interest and do impact government policy that in turn impacts all of us.

A rational critique of governments and their actions and policies is both reasonable and necessary to maintain a healthy democracy. From that perspective, the desire of those who are skeptical of governments is fair, however the key word here is “rational”. Once these legitimate desires are hijacked from rational critiques of government to irrational conspiracy theory based attacks, those who buy in, have become useful idiots.

As I noted in my previous article: “Conspiracy Theory Marketing“, if you peel back the layers on most of those who promote various conspiracy theories around the pandemic, they are relentlessly self-promoting. Those who do this kind of self-promotion could care less about the veracity of the information they are promoting, since revealing truth is not their purpose. They seek to create as much buzz as possible and recruit useful idiots to share the social media posts and videos they create to self-promote.

The unfortunate side-effect of these disinformation campaigns, is that those who would offer rational critiques of government, now appear as loonies and since their “critiques” are based on the demonstrable stupidity provided by various conspiracy theories, they are very easy to dismiss as “idiots” (i.e. useful idiots). In other words, since they offer no rational or valuable critique of the status quo, they are reinforcing the very status quo they are objecting to! Useful idiocy at its best!

It gets worse. The useful idiots who share social media that supports these conspiracy theories are supporting the marketing campaigns of those who create them and at the same time offering misinformation that can produce harms.

The other odd effect here, manifests as a kind of cognitive dissonance that occurs in these useful idiots. In order to rationalize their support of the nonsense they share, they convince themselves they are mentally superior to those who think the pandemic is a real thing and hence they are participating in a movement that seeks truth.

To be absolutely clear, the pandemic is a real thing and rational critique of how governments and healthcare systems react to, or manage the pandemic is also completely fair and desirable. The problem with useful idiots is that they fail to realize how they have been hijacked and therefore have nothing useful to add to the debate on how to manage pandemics and other healthcare issues.

We need to rationally critique our governments without falling prey to the disinformation campaigns being cynically manufactured for relentless self-promotion.

So to all useful idiots out there, time to wake up and see how you are being used, and then put your efforts into initiatives that are of value to your fellow human beings.

Big Data is Watching You

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Big Data

The title of this article is slightly misleading. Big data is not watching you, but big data could not exist without all of your activities on the Internet being monitored on a continuous basis.

So what? Since you are not up to anything nefarious, does this really matter?

The short answer is: yes it does.

First of all, exactly what is “big data”?

If all of your activities on the Internet are monitored, and everyone else’s are as well, the amount of information or data that is collected, stored and processed is massive, hence the term “big data”. It also important to note that it is not just the amount of the data that matters, but also how that data is processed to reveal connections and to characterize those connections in ways that make actions that employ that data, fruitful for those who use it.

The obvious follow-up questions are:

  • Who is doing the watching (and collecting)?
  • Why are they watching?
  • How is the data they collect used?
  • Are there any issues around how this “big data” is used?

If you participate in any social media platform such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc. you are providing personal information that has value to those who own those platforms. Your internet searches, web browsing behavior, online purchases, articles you read, and videos you watch also provide information that is of value.

The value that you provide is your personal information, which is a marketable commodity that can be sold to advertisers. Advertisers buy services from companies like Google and Facebook who store your personal information. The data they have collected on you allows them to target ads very specifically since they know so much about you. What they know about you is stored in a profile that is very specific to you and contains a stunning number of different data points. This data is not only information related to your identity such as gender, age, location, profession, group memberships, and nationality, but also includes your beliefs and interests. Your stored profile also contains other information related to politics, religion, hobbies , activities etc. It also includes a lists of people you are associated with such as family, friends, professional associates and others.

Since the collected data allows very specific ad targeting, it is of great value to advertisers since they are not spending money exposing their ads to demographics who are unlikely to buy their products or services. This happens since each page you view in your browser is rendered dynamically and is customized for you with information and ads that are consistent with the profile they have assembled on you.

It is worth emphasizing how dynamic customization of what is viewed on the Internet impacts how people interpret what they are seeing. Many might assume they get the same information and ads for all those viewing the same “page” on the Internet. This is not true. You view is customized for you.

There are some side-effects of this customization that have been discussed in a previous article: The Filter Bubble.

In this article, I am focusing on how this data is used. Like all technologies, the technology itself may have no particular bias, however, how it is used may offer both positive and negative aspects.

For advertisers this technologies offers the obvious efficiencies as noted above. For those being shown advertising, they are seeing products and services that they are most likely interested in acquiring. None of that seems terribly concerning. However, what about other types of applications?

The bad boy of big data was a company called “Cambridge Analytica”. The claim made about this company was that they had inappropriately used a large amount of data acquired from Facebook in advertising campaigns they had executed on behalf of their clients. The amusing thing about that is, as noted above, the business model of Facebook is based on harvesting personal data which they can sell to companies like Cambridge Analytica. So what’s the fuss?

The answer to that question has some nuance. Firstly, it exposed the business model of Facebook to its user community in ways that are, at the very least, embarrassing to Facebook, since it demonstrates clearly what Facebook is all about: harvesting personal data for profit. This creates considerable awkwardness for Facebook, since the more they “protect” personal data, the less valuable that data becomes. This puts Facebook in the middle between Facebook users wanting privacy and their customers wanting as much data as possible. Who do you suppose will win that tug of war?

One of the major concerns raised over the Cambridge Analytica scandal was the use of psychological profiles they had developed on Facebook users in their ad campaigns. These ad campaigns where designed to target Facebook users who were identified as being in the middle ground, in elections or referendums, to sway their votes in favor of a particular candidate or cause. Apparently the clients of Cambridge Analytica were happy with the results. Facebook, on the other hand, postured as the injured party since they claimed their data had been used inappropriately.

The lesson learned: really targeted advertising, based on the analysis of big data, can change the voting behavior of those who are on the fence. This bring us into a whole new world of advertising. We have gone from lawn signs to very specific targeted ads that have impacts far beyond traditional forms of political campaigning (or other forms of campaigns).

Given that the impacts of such campaigns are real, yet so subtle that most may be unaware of their effects, should they be curtailed in some way? If they are to be curtailed, what happens to those who are currently profiting from the mass collection of personal data?

This is the current challenge around all social media. It is not necessarily just harmless fun. The use of social media by increasingly large numbers of individuals, produces a vast treasure trove of data that can be used in ways that undermine the process of democracy, which presumes we all have the freedom to choose. But are those choices free of biases created by strategic advertising campaigns? How do we make good choices when the information we are seeing is skewed?

It is fair to say information has always been presented in ways that has bias, however with the advent of big data, the key change has been that biased information can be targeted and hence can be fed to selected groups of people who can be swayed. This makes the promulgation of biased information far more nefarious due to its potential impacts on “free” societies.

We all need to take a step back and recognize how we can be possibly manipulated by the use of our own personal data, which we happily give away on a regular basis through our use of social media. It is naïve to think we are beyond the influence of targeted campaigns facilitated by big data.

Those campaigns have real effects, so be aware, be very aware!

Humour

The Tick Tock of Time

gardening

Gardening

The Art of Laziness

Spring has Sprung

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