Quit social media! It is not advice from me. Delete them all, is rather a warning from Silicon Valley tech insiders. Here I do not attempt to share an individual perception of how you should treat them in the future. I’m trying to present to you the facts and testimonies from the founders of these platforms, researchers, psychologists, some prominent computer scientists, and tech insiders.
I know I’m surrounded by optimistic people who see the glass half-full and not half-empty. They don’t just have one but thousands of reasons to have a presence on social media. Indeed, they talk about the good sides of these platforms; or perhaps, they are misled and convinced that way. Since the good things they show, exist without these platforms. The benefits they talk about are the common characteristics of the Internet and not social media. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Whats App, and Instagram are not the only way to get connected and stay updated.
We are over hyping the benefits of social media and way underplaying the negatives and the costs.Dr. Cal Newport, Computer Scientist, Author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
Let’s come back to optimism. You should know it’s the over-optimistic people who become the victims of an online phishing attack. A spammer spams knowing there is a group of such people who will not be critical and respond to their unreasonable demand.
Phishing attacks are still okay; because it harms only a few individuals. But the catastrophic business model that the social media companies rely upon will ultimately destroy the society including themselves. In a single word, it’s unsustainable. It’s also a major threat to the economy and democracy. So quit social media for the sake of a better future.
Despite the facts, experiments, and evidence that exposed their dark sides, for which they were fined billions of dollars and apologized, these companies still managed to convince the world that some policy changes will prevent us from the destruction we are heading. Which is far from the truth. The only solution, Jaron says, “Delete them right now.“
Table of Contents
We are Living in a World without Any Privacy
We are living in a world where our personal and private data are stolen by the giant Silicon Valley tech companies like Facebook and Google. Our privacy is their most valuable asset. All taken from us bypassing our awareness. It’s a fact now. The whistleblowers made the invisible visible.
They gave us their products and services for free and turned us into their products. We are then auctioned to their highest bidder. Initially, they sold us to only businesses. Now they have gone a step further. They’ve made our private data available to authoritarian regimes without our consent. However, it can be sold to anyone.
This is at the root of all the major problems we see in our world today. Yet people don’t care about it at all. It is because their devices are engineered to operate in stealth where the people that they call their users are led with profound misconceptions, like, connecting people, organizing the world’s information, personalizing services, or empowering individuals.
In reality, they are dividing us, making us more lonely, taking away our dignity and rights, and destroying democracy everywhere in the world. They are filling the world in with hate, fear, and anger. What they introduced as Social Media, is now a Crime Scene. If you’re in it, you’re participating in crimes, organized algorithmically beyond your understanding. It’s a space without law and order. There is no one you can hold accountable.
When you look at the patent application from Google, or from Facebook, or from Amazon where they want to design essentially surveillance networks inside of physically constructed space including in your living room. Where for the first time in human history you are sitting in your own house and you’re never alone. Because the ambient environment is watching you, thinking about you, and constantly trying to seek to change, influence, and optimize your behavior.Chris Wylie, Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower, Ex-CA Employee, Canadian Data Consultant
They know more about you than you know about yourself
You’re probably wondering, how could they do so much with our name, age, emails, or phone numbers? Or perhaps, a fake identity will help us escape their trap. Again, that’s not what’s going on. The information we consciously gave them is not what they are after. They are after what we do not want to share with anybody.
It’s the residual data we leave behind from our online activities, is what they’re after, to figure out our personality, who we are as a human, our habits, our weaknesses, and our vulnerabilities. They call it psychographics. The metadata that is crucial for their algorithm to profile us with precision.
When they know how you look, can understand your mood through your camera by using the knowledge they obtained analyzing hundreds or thousands of photos you’ve posted and shared online, or hear your voice through your mobile’s microphone, the ailments you had, the treatments you received, the car you drive, the color you prefer, the perfume you wear, how many kids you have, your spouse or the person you’re in a relationship with, the restaurants you visit, the dishes you like, and everything else you can think of, then your name, doesn’t matter if it’s fake or real, becomes irrelevant.
They are watching and following us in ways we don’t understand. The more we help them to add variety and quality to their existing data, the harder it becomes to keep ourselves anonymous.
Spying is accomplished mostly through connected personal devices— especially, for now, smartphones—that people keep practically glued to their bodies. Data are gathered about each person’s communications, interests, movements, contact with others, emotional reactions to circumstances, facial expressions, purchases, vital signs: an ever-growing, boundless variety of data. If you’re reading this on an electronic device, for instance, there’s a good chance an algorithm is keeping a record of data such as how fast you read or when you take a break to check something else.Jaron Lanier, Computer Scientist, Founding Father of Virtual Reality, Author of Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now
It’s all about engagement. The better they know you, the easier it is for them to figure out how to keep you engaged. The word engagement is a clever way to mask their intention behind it. The most appropriate word for this is addiction. Once you get addicted you will continue repeating your behavior. Your time is their money.
The primary reason they are after our residual data is, there are tremendous predictive signals, that can be extracted by feeding the data to their computational factories. Here are some significant examples of what might happen to us, as a result of the precise predictions their algorithms offer.
How they knew a teenager was pregnant before she did
I first learned about this incident in 2016, when I was reading a book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do, and How to Change by Charles Duhigg. The author also published an article How Companies Learn Your Secrets on The New York Times on this topic. The subject Habit in itself is quite fascinating. Habits are a sequence of actions converted into automatic routines. It also seems to be one of the favorite subjects of Aristotle. He said, “95% of everything you do is the result of habit.” So your habits might send out strong predictive signals. This book also explains how in many situations where we think we’re making intelligent and rational decisions are not so, but the result of our habits.
That’s why companies not only sell their products but also try to create or manipulate consumer habits. That will guarantee their profit for many years. They know when we get ourselves into a habit of doing something, we simply cannot stop it. Habits cannot be stopped. It can be replaced with another habit.
Often a significant life event that disrupts our usual way of living replaces our old habits, or develop new ones. Pregnancy is one of the times a woman’s habits are changed. According to neuroscience, pregnant women and mothers are easily persuaded. If you’re still not ready to believe you’re being persuaded in ways you cannot detect then get yourself a copy of this book The Buying Brain: Secrets for Selling to the Subconscious by A. K. Pradeep. There is a lot to say about it but I worry this article is getting longer than I intend it to be.
So an American retail corporation Target wanted to figure out which of its customers were pregnant. They hired a statistician Andrew Pole to solve the problem based on the buying patterns of their customers. He did come out with a solution that earned him millions and generated the company a profit of 2 billion dollars within a year only from pregnant women. Then a year after Andrew developed the pregnancy-prediction model, the most remarkable happened.
An angry man walked into the store with the coupons the company sent to his daughter and demanded to see the manager. He said, “My daughter got this in the mail! She’s still in high school, and you’re sending her coupons for baby clothes and cribs? Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?”
Although the coupons for baby products and maternity clothing he showed were sent by the company, the manager had no idea what the man was talking about. The manager apologized. A few days later, he called her father to apologize again. This time he felt the father was a little embarrassed. Her father said, “I had a talk with my daughter. It turns out there have been some activities in my house I haven’t been completely aware of. She’s due in August. I owe you an apology.”
The company algorithms discovered she switched from fragrant shampoos to more neutral smelling products. This indicated she was pregnant. Olfactory sense during pregnancy becomes stronger. Since her sense of smell became keener, she preferred to use neutral smelling products.
The internet companies have not built a profile of you alone. They have built a behavioral model that’s predictive. There is a crucial difference. So, a profile is a static data and that they might reveal to you. Because it’s harmless to reveal to you. So that would say, oh, you have this many children, and this is your income, you have this car, this is where you went on vacation. In a way that’s not very important. What is important is that they can co-related all those things with everybody else, they can look at what everybody else with similar does and use those statistics to predict you. It’s that prediction that they never share with you, you never get to see that. They would die before they would share that.Jaron Lanier, Computer Scientist, Founding Father of Virtual Reality, Author of Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now
We need to remember that nobody would ever send us a direct message like, “Congratulations on your first baby!” This would be too obvious, that they are watching us. They will always include some products that you would never buy just to make their offer appear very random. So you don’t doubt it.
Facebook’s greatest data robbery Cambridge Analytica scandal
The facts about our online privacy remain incomplete unless we talk about the Cambridge Analytica Scandal that harvested and psychologically profiled 87 million US Facebook users to target them with specific, and of course, fake messages on Facebook to help elect Donald Trump in 2016. The agency also played a vital role in the Brexit ‘Vote Leave’ Campaign and broke British electoral laws.
Cambridge Analytica is a data firm that politically profiles people to understand their fears, to better target them with Facebook Ads. Cambridge Analytica Scandal is what made the invisible visible to the world. Perhaps, all of this would remain in the dark without the British investigative journalist Carole Cadwalladr who chased down Chris Wylie to get him on the record. Chris Wylie is a data scientist and ex-employee who help set up Cambridge Analytica.
It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress on April 10, 2018
The revelation caused Facebook’s Co-founder Mark Zuckerberg to testify Facebook’s part in this data breaches before Congress. Later Facebook was fined £500,000 for failing to protect its users’ privacy.
Delete your social media accounts. If you think it’s okay for you then delete it for the sake of the entire humanity. Because many of us unknowingly participating in organized crimes. Yes, crimes that are algorithmically organized. Despite everything that we witnessed in the last decade I still believe most people are decent. How people are going to behave depends on which part of their personality is fueled.
How Facebook helped China create an “open-air prison”
Billions of photos we have uploaded on Facebook are destined to be used against us. They used our photos to trains their algorithms and to develop artificial intelligence into their facial recognition software. Their facial recognition software is not only capable of identifying us, but it’s also capable of understanding our mood, emotion, and tendencies.
Facebook sold its users’ data to the Chinese Government to help oppress the Uighur’s ethnic people and to keep them under surveillance. Their facial recognition software was also used to track advocates of democracy in Hong Kong. This is often regarded as an open-air prison. Because it’s no longer required to put people behind bars or barbed wire.
Our daily contribution to these platforms made their software so intelligent it can accurately identify you even you put heavy makeup on your face, or wear goggles, or hide your face with a piece of cloth. This is one of the ways our private data is used by Facebook to facilitate authoritarian regimes. Yet our privacy is guaranteed. Because our faces are not sold. It’s the predictive model scraped off our residual data.
These companies are making you a conformist. You’ve lost your free will, along with your privacy. In Jaron Linear’s words, “We are caged animals; a cage that goes everywhere with us.” Humans will never come to their full potential if they feel they are being watched. Instead, they will follow the social norms than being unique and true to themselves.
Policing this way will not create a society free from criminals. It will open the doors to dictatorship. It will limit the movements of investigative journalists, human rights activists, and dissidents, and the people who inspire a revolution. At worst, it will radicalize the entire nation. This kind of use of technology has not taken us forward; it has taken us backward. Tools that were expected to improve our lives have caused damage that we will take decades to repair.
Did you know?
The people way smarter than you and I are equally vulnerable to surveillance. Mark Zuckerberg once posted a photo on Facebook to celebrate 500 million monthly active users on Instagram. He was careless about what was going in the background of his picture. A Twitter user Chris Olson noticed that his laptop’s webcam and mic jack were covered with tape. FBI’s director, James Comey also takes the same privacy measures and tapes his webcam. Managing Director of British-German surveillance company Gamma International, Martin J. Muench, was also seen in a photo where he covered his webcam with a sticker. Since his company Gamma sells off-the-shelf surveillance software to governments, they know what kind of surveillance is possible. So they do not want it to be used against them.
It’s Free! Yet They Are Trillion-Dollar A Year Companies
Everybody just keeps using their free services and products; nobody ever asks a question about what makes them so much money? Or how did they become trillion-dollar a year company?
People in developing countries like ours do not have a sense of economy. We get something for free and never bother to ask ourselves who pays for it. However, when it comes to digital products, this attitude is similar across the globe. Very few among my friends and relatives use a paid and genuine operating system on their computers. When I suggest a licensed software, they consider me a stupid who wasted his money on these digital products.
Their attitude made me wondering about my future. Back then, I was studying to be a software developer before pursuing a career in art. I knew how much effort goes into it making it a useful product. They are created by intelligent people and often involve groups of different types of professionals and specialists. It has a steep learning curve and it costs a lot of money. You didn’t pay for it but somebody else had to. So they invented a complex and sophisticated way of taking the money out of your pocket without even making you aware of it and began to facilitate the people who paid for you.
A business that doesn’t have a definite product or service to sell or doesn’t ask for any payment is essentially playing the role of a mass manipulator. As negative emotions increase your engagement with these platforms it will turn you against each other in the worst manner possible. Then it will alarm its advertisers at the right moment when you’re most vulnerable and can be easily manipulated. These accurate predictions about you maximize their advertiser’s chance of success. The worst is, their advertisers could be anyone, a businessman, politician, criminal, or the government.
The google business plan is the greatest threat to the freedom on the internet… Because it’s directly making money from controlling what people know about.Jaron Lanier, Computer Scientist, Founding Father of Virtual Reality, Author of Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now
This took me a while to understand how these companies make money. It became clear when I opened my ad accounts on Google and Facebook. As you know all the products Facebook owns like Facebook, Instagram, and Whats App all are free for their users. So Facebook depends entirely on running advertisements.
I was surprised to discover that Google earns 95% of its revenue from Google Ads, formerly known as Google AdWords. Everything else they have, including Android, makes up the remaining 5%. The products they sell that make up the 5% aren’t intended for profit. They are intended to add variety and quality to the personal data by creating multiple data points. For example, Google placed hidden microphones on Google Nest home products to record personal conversations.
Since their business depends on selling ads, they focus on two things, addiction, and manipulation. Addiction helps them to consume as much of our time as possible. Manipulation gets them the incentive from their advertisers. So you are not their customers. Their customers are businesses, government, or any person who wants to use their ad platforms.
Another way to put it, you’re their product; they’re selling you, based on the predictions they’ve made about you, to businesses, authoritarian governments, or individuals who want you to click on a website, watch a video, read a book, or join a community and slowly herd you through a rabbit hole towards a profitable end, or a political motive.
Trust me! I run my art business online, I created brand identities for other businesses, I developed websites for new businesses and helped them rank on the first page of Google within a few weeks. To make it possible I had to spend a lot of time reading books and complete many online courses about SEO (Search Engine Optimization), Online Advertisements, and PPC (Pay Per Click), etc.
My involvement in digital marketing enabled me to see the world from the other end of these platforms. The view I had was extraordinary, and the possibilities I saw were limitless. It was also very scary. As there was no way of knowing who else is using them and why.
I began to inform my close friends and relatives that they are precisely being targeted and manipulated. They didn’t care, and like most people, they thought they aren’t persuadable. They think they can outsmart a system that daily analyzes millions of people to upgrade itself. Their perception of these platforms made me hopeless. I often felt desperate to write, believing, a little more clarification may help them reconsider their relationship with their digital devices.
This is very little and it hardly tells you anything about their complex business model and their approach to capitalism. If you’re serious and want to know more about it, I suggest you a book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, written by a professor of Harvard Business School and social psychologist, Shoshana Zuboff. She is often regarded as Karl Marx of our time. Her research will help you understand what’s going on beneath the surface.
So long as the business model of technology companies is advertising we’re gonna have a problem.Tristan Harris, Ex-Google Employee, Director, and Co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology
Technology is Intended to be Used in a Predetermined Way
Technology isn’t neutral, not at all. You must drop the ideas like social media isn’t inherently bad, or it depends on how an individual uses it, etc. They are all rubbish claims. Companies like Google and Facebook engineered these tools for a specific end, and they control how you interact with them.
I noticed when I was at Sandford University, there is a class called the persuasive technology design class. There is a whole lab at Sandford that teaches students how to apply persuasive psychology principles into technology to persuade people to use products in a certain way. So it’s not about giving you all this freedom it’s about sucking you in to take your time.Tristan Harris, Ex-Google Employee, Director, and Co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology
Design affects us in a very powerful way. So they say, “Design can change the world.” The human mind responds to signs, symbols, colors, shapes, and patterns at a deeper level than words. Everything, from the placement of an element, its size, color, proportion, repetition, variation, contrast all plays a significant role in serving its purpose. They’re not random. They are there to help guide our decisions.
As I’m a visual artist I can write a great deal about it. When you look at a picture it’s not you who decides how you will navigate through the picture. It’s the artist who takes you on a journey and decides what you will see, how you will see it, how long you will see, where you will stop, and how you will begin the journey again. It is all possible with the principle of designs and the art of composition. So the emotions you experience when viewing a picture are not random; they are planned by the artist and triggered by the visual cues he placed in his work.
It is not we who get to choose when we are online. It’s they who orchestrate us to see what they want us to see. I understand it’s hard to believe. Since they know how our brain works they always try to make it appear as random and organic as they can. So we don’t become skeptical and doubt them.
For example, when you search something on Google, the search result you get isn’t just based on the keywords or terms you entered in the search field. The search results you get is filtered based on what Google already knows about you; like your browsing history, your interests, your personality, travel history, political view, religious view, your current location, the mood you’re in at the time of the search, and God knows what else. It increases relevancy and maximizes their chance of getting you to click on what they want you to click on, while you feel you’re being served by them.
Remember, their business depends on our attention. The CEO of Netflix Reed Hastings said that their biggest competitors aren’t just Amazon, YouTube, and Facebook, but also our sleep. When there is profit attached to our attention, for which they’re competing with each other, the only thing that is left is the time we sleep.
What we need to fear most is not what artificial intelligence will do to us on its own, but how the people in power will use artificial intelligence to control us and to manipulate us in a novel, sometimes hidden, subtle, and unexpected ways. Much of the technology that threatens our freedom and our dignity in the near-term future is being developed by companies in the business of capturing and selling our data and our attention to advertisers and others: Facebook, Google, Amazon, Alibaba, Tencent.Zeynep Tufekci, Academic, and Techno-sociologist, and Author of Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest
Facebook’s massive-scale emotional contagion experiment
A Facebook scientist along with two academics conducted a massive emotional contagion experiment on 689,003 Facebook users by manipulating their news feed. They published their findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
Emotional contagion is a phenomenon by which one person can trigger similar emotions or behaviors in another person. So they wanted to know if it existed in online interactions on Facebook and whether that would influence our offline real-world behavior and emotions to see if they could make people happier or sadder using subliminal cues, with language manipulation, word manipulation, and so on.
They found in-person interaction and nonverbal cues are not necessary for emotional contagion. They manipulated their news feed by reducing the number of emotional content. “When positive expressions were reduced, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts; when negative expressions were reduced, the opposite pattern occurred.” This experiment proves that Facebook can make its users feel good or bad in the online world as well as offline.
Emotional contagion experiment emphasized two key findings:
- Facebook can successfully manipulate real-world behavior by manipulating its news feed with positive and negative content.
- Facebook can do all these without making its users aware of it.
With the support of this fact, we must drop the notion that technology is neutral and understand that we’re being controlled by the people, we can’t see and for the purpose, we don’t know.
Persuasive Design Makes Them as Addictive as Cocaine
Persuasive designs are more powerful than you’re willing to believe. I have talked about this in private conversations many times. When they understood, asked, “How can we escape these tactics from the advertisers, or how can we identify their tools and protect ourselves?” There is no one-word answer. It plays with human psychology which is huge in itself. At worst, there are situations where we simply cannot resist ourselves from getting into their trap. Because that’s us; the very human within us.
I must admit I’m not an expert on this subject. I learned some of it. The primary reason I got involved in psychology was very personal. It was to help myself get out of a situation that put me in a downward spiral of negative emotions. My approach to this subject was a kind of self-help. I found it to be a fascinating subject and that led me to many other resources and texts.
I found there are many aspects of human life where they behave in a very consistent manner. It has not changed for thousands and thousands of years. Those behaviors are very predictable. That’s where we are most vulnerable. That’s the space where we get exploited by someone knowledgeable about these principles of persuasion. So as I was exploring those things I was scared too. My fear motivated me to have private conversations about it with friends and family. Unfortunately, most of us don’t know about it.
You’re now probably wondering about yourself. Certainly, I can provide you some help in this regard so you can identify these situations and protect yourself from some evil happening to your life. My intention is not to make you bulletproof. Of course, we need products, services, and guidance to make our life functional, easy, convenient, and meaningful. But that must happen with our consent. They must not bypass our awareness, or rob us by appealing to our subconscious.
Psychology of persuasion and its core components
It’s interesting to think that we use all the information we gathered that guides our decisions. But that’s not true. More information confuses us, and with the increasing amount of information, we feel overwhelmed and look for short cuts to make decisions. This information overload makes room for persuaders to pursue us.
When motivation alone doesn’t get you started they make their design work by appealing to your emotions, then establishing trust and then incorporating the components of persuasion: reciprocity, commitment, conformity, authority, liking, and scarcity. Once they hook you on to their product or platform it begins to change your behavior through interaction with the product.
One straightforward solution to understand them is to see these components of persuasion in action. Researchers have been studying this subject for more than 50 years and psychology professor Dr. Robert B. Cialdini’s research stands out from the rest. Dr. Robert B Cialdini is Regents’ Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University. He has written extensively on these core components in his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. This knowledge may help you prevent yourself from being persuaded unethically.
No mother will ever consciously introduce cocaine to her children
A mother will never provide substances like cocaine, alcohol, or tobacco to her children. There is an age restriction on these drugs. She is also aware of the consequences. But most parents are okay with giving their children access to smartphones. On the contrary, she thinks it will make her children unusually smart.
Of course, they are doing it out of ignorance. There are scientific researches conducted on this topic, and they found these tools to be as addictive as cocaine. They cause our brain to release the same amount of dopamine as cocaine.
This is not what we just learned only because of those experiments. Some of the early founders of these platforms acknowledged and testified that it was intentional.
The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works.… No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem— this is not about Russian ads. This is a global problem.… I feel tremendous guilt. I think we all knew in the back of our minds—even though we feigned this whole line of, like, there probably aren’t any bad unintended consequences. I think in the back, deep, deep recesses of, we kind of knew something bad could happen.… So we are in a really bad state of affairs right now, in my opinion. It is eroding the core foundation of how people behave by and between each other. And I don’t have a good solution. My solution is I just don’t use these tools anymore. I haven’t for years.Chamath Palihapitiya, former vice president of user growth at Facebook
What is a dopamine-driven feedback loop and how is it similar to the effect of cocaine?
Cocaine increases the organic chemicals in our brain that work as neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. It acts in the reward center or limbic system of our brain, which regulates our ability to feel pleasure and causes to release dopamine that makes us feel good. Simultaneously it blocks the reuptake of the neurotransmitters and causes them to float between the two nerve cells, the presynaptic neuron(one that released it) and the postsynaptic neuron(the one received it).
As it builds up in the synaptic cleft, this huge amount of dopamine continues to stimulate the receptors, and as a consequence, it increases our energy, alertness, heart rate, excitement, and happiness. Arguably it stays around 5-10 minutes. When it disappears we immediately want to get that feeling back to escape the depression its absence causes. This is what makes us use the same substance again and over again until it turns into an addiction. To chase the same reward we repeat our behavior and keep ourselves in the loop.
It’s dangerous because our body has a built-in tolerance mechanism that helps our body by reducing the number of neurotransmitter receptors. When our body becomes tolerant and less sensitive to dopamine it forces us to consume larger amounts of cocaine to get a similar feeling. The same is true for people addicted to pornography.
We need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while. Because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever.… It’s a social-validation feedback loop … exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with. Because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.… The inventors, creators—it’s me, it’s Mark (Zuckerberg), it’s Kevin Systrom on Instagram, it’s all of these people—understood this consciously. And we did it anyway … it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other.… It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.Sean Parker, the first president of Facebook
Personalized Content Polarizes Us and Buries the Reality
I’m certain what you’ve seen on the homepage of Amazon today is different than what I have seen. That means the ads they serve are getting individualized. The ads are constantly modified to suit your personality and preferences. They use behavioral science first to lure you into their way then manipulate you to maximize their profit.
There has never been a time when lie had a higher status than truth. People are lying since they invented language. A decade ago when the mainstream media lied to polarize people, everybody knew what lies everybody else saw. Now, lies are targeted and personalized. You have no idea what lies others have been served with. Because they were personalized and served on their devices. Thus the human part of us becomes outrageous when we see and hear something unjust for our race, culture, community, country, belief, and religion. They precisely know what you’re sensitive to.
Outrage works really well at getting attention… You can precisely target a lie to the people who are most susceptible. And because this is profitable, it’s going to get worse.Tristan Harris, Ex-Google Employee, Director, and Co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology
Brittany Kaiser another whistleblower, and former business development director for Cambridge Analytica said in her testimony before the UK Parliament, “The methodology was considered a weapon, weapons-grade communications tactics, which means that we had to tell the British government if it was going to be deployed in another country outside the United Kingdom.” In other words, the psychographics they used to profile and target people were so divisive that they were classified as “weapons-grade communication technique”.
We knew so much about so many individuals that we could understand their inner demons and we could figure out how to target those demons, how to target their fear, how to target their anger, how to target their paranoia and with those targets we could trigger those emotions and by triggering those emotions we could then manipulate them into clicking on a website, joining a group, telling them what kind of things to read, telling them what kind of people to hang out with even telling them who to vote for.Chris Wylie, Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower, Ex-CA Employee, Canadian Data Consultant
Personalization is achieved and refined through A/B Testing
Have you ever heard of “suggestion”? There are two kinds of suggestions; one is called auto-suggestion and the other hetero-suggestion. The former comes from within and the later from outside. Suggestions are the door-ways to your subconscious mind. It is what paints a picture in your mind that you’re about to see in reality. The power of suggestion is explained in great depth by Napoleon Hill in his book Think and Grow Rich, and he dedicated an entire chapter on auto-suggestion. Another famous book that talks about the power and use of suggestion, to a great extent is The Magic of Believing by Claude M. Bristol.
According to Claude M. Bristol, Hitler had a remarkable understanding of the law of suggestion and its different forms of application and mobilized every instrument of propaganda in his campaign, in building up the German people to attack the world. Hitler openly stated that the psychology of suggestion was a terrible weapon in the hands of any-one who knew how to use it. He hypnotized the entire nation by appealing to the deep and dark desires of his people. Here is how he discovered the subconscious desires the German people had.
Hitler was known to be one of the most influential orators. He spoke with emotions and learned to awaken the inner demons of the crowd in a dialectic process. His control over the crowd wasn’t accidental. He spoke something and then he carefully observed and took note of the crowd’s reaction. He watched what worked and what didn’t.
For example, if people didn’t respond to what he said he avoided it, but if people roared after he said something, he took a note of it and went down that line. That’s how he developed an understanding of their dark fantasies. According to Carl Jung, he was the mouthpiece of the collective unconscious of the German people.
When people roared it symbolized their approval. It’s contagious. It caused others to believe what they believed. It’s the conformity component of the psychology of persuasion in action. Politicians often strategically use provocative speeches to trigger hate and fear among people. Because it shuts down the cerebral cortex, the part of our brain responsible for reasoning and judgment, then our lizard brain takes over which prepares us for a fight or flight.
Similarly, Hitler tested people with A and B or probably continued with C, D, …, and measured their effectiveness. A/B Testing is a concept that I learned during software development. I’m not sure whether this terminology is used anywhere else. App developers and digital marketers try out things in this manner. They always run psychological tests on their users to better understand how they behave, or what are their deepest desires, or how to awaken their inner demons. They may tweak the color of a button, or its placement, or size, or they may change the words to see if that helps you gravitate towards it.
We’re being hypnotized little by little, by technicians we can’t see, for purposes, we don’t know. We’re all lab animals now.Jaron Lanier, Computer Scientist, Founding Father of Virtual Reality, Author of Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now
Their tools evolve in this back and forth iterative process. They keep on trying until they can align people with their interests; the way Hitler aligned the Germans with his interests. You must know, on social media, trolls are used to categorize our sentiments by its sophisticated feed algorithms, for sinister purposes. This is how Cambridge Analytica mined the psychographics of 87 million US voters. They claimed they had 5000 data points for each voter, and they bragged about it.
Then only God knows how many data points Facebook and Google have for each of us, and what kind of personalization they are capable of doing. Like the hypnotized crowd that gathered around Hitler, we are mobilized by algorithms that have a remarkable understanding of who we are and our vulnerabilities and our weaknesses.
Quitting Social Media is the Only Way to Undo the Damage
Do you want one person to control 2.5 billion people? Or do you want, let’s say, remain connected with others at the cost of your privacy and at the risk of being manipulated?
If you’re an artist, scientist, engineer, doctor, or any professional in a field of solving complex problems, ask yourself, would it be okay for you to risk the fine qualities you’ve developed painstakingly for several years? I heard Tony Robbins in an interview saying, “Resourcefulness is the ultimate resource. You’ve two ultimate resources; your mental focus and your physical energy.“
Our mental focus is greatly compromised. We’re abnormally interrupted by notifications, and we check our phones about 150 times a day. A recent study reveals our attention span, which used to be about 20 minutes has been reduced to 8 seconds, which is less than the attention span of a notoriously ill-focused animal goldfish. If it keeps going we will lose our capacity to solve the deep problems that we have in our personal as well as in professional life.
Every time we interrupt each other it takes us about 23 minutes on average to refocus our attention. We actually cycle through two different projects before we come back to the original thing we were doing… It actually trains bad habits. The more interruptions we get externally, it’s conditioning and training us to interrupt ourselves. We actually self-interrupt every three-and-a-half minutes.Tristan Harris, Ex-Google Employee, Director, and Co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology
You must understand, it’s a collective problem, and we are making it worse with our ignorance, and a collective problem requires a collective solution. Everybody is slowly being trapped and forced into believing that Google and Facebook are the only solutions to modern life, or they are the only way to remain connected with the rest of the world. No, it’s the internet that connects you; not Google or Facebook.
The business model that earns them trillions of dollars depends on our private data, behavior, personalities. Quitting will force them to find an alternative solution. We must not use them as long as they depend on an advertising business model.
They claim them as data that they own. They took it from our lives, they took it from our private experience without our permission, they analyzed the data. They made it into products. They sold the products and took the profit, illegitimate profit. Because they took it at the beginning without asking, without our knowledge.Prof. Shoshana Zuboff, Social Psychologist, Author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power
This is just the beginning of what they’ve initiated. If you think you can’t exist without them, then ten years later it will be more difficult to find an alternative. Perhaps the choice we still have today may not be available tomorrow. I dare not to think there may be a time when we will be forced to use these apps and give away our privacy for nothing.
To free yourself, to be more authentic, to be less addicted, to be less manipulated, to be less paranoid … for all these marvelous reasons, delete your accounts.Jaron Lanier, Computer Scientist, Founding Father of Virtual Reality, Author of Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now
How You Can Escape Surveillance and Still Be Connected
Simply asking anyone to quit social media without showing some alternatives makes them feel stranded in the middle of an ocean. We’re so wrapped up with these tools and platforms we find it difficult to imagine a life without them. It’s also evident there are people, celebrities, and a lot of hi-powered techies who do not use these tools at all; for being aware of its consequences.
It may deeply shock you, the parents working at these giants tech companies Facebook, Google, Apple, Hewlett-Packard, and Yahoo in Silicon Valley send their kids to the tech-free school Waldorf School of the Peninsula, where smartphones, tablets, and not even a computer is allowed for their students. They allow no screen at all. The news first appeared in The New York Times in an article entitled A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute.
It makes sense, right? Who knows its consequences better than they do?
Earlier I talked about some smartest people who put stickers on their webcams. So now you know, you should do the same. The other things they practice are discussed in the following sections. You must take them seriously.
Use VPNs to hide your location and IP Address
Every device connected to the Internet has a unique IP Address. When you connect your device to the Internet your ISP (Internet Service Provider) assigns a unique IP Address to your device. IP stands for Internet Protocol, which serves as a personal identifier for your device. It’s like the return address that you put on the back of a letter that leads back to your device.
Risks associated with the IP Address that ISP assigns to your devices
When you visit a website, your request first travels through your local network, then your data is routed through your ISP to the destination server. Then the server responds to your request. Advertisers and spies can track your movement by knowing your IP Address. Your ISP also keeps a log of your web activity and may sell it to anybody they wish. Or if you’re using a public WIFI network, anyone connected to the same network can steal your data and watch what you’re doing.
Here are some of the things that your IP Address exposes about you:
- Your browsing habits and your browsing history.
- Your location where you’re accessing the Internet from.
- Your usernames and passwords that you type when you log into a web service.
- Personal files and documents that you send over the Internet.
- Messages and emails that you send back and forth and other forms of communications.
VPNs can minimize these risks and protect your online privacy. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. It gives you privacy and anonymity by creating a private network from a public internet connection.
It primarily does two things; firstly, it masks your IP Address. Meaning, any website you visit, or application you use will not see your real IP Address. Instead, they will see the VPN server’s IP Address, which is shared by thousands of people. So you get lost in the crowd. It’s like using a public telephone booth. You can pretend to be someone located in a different country. Secondly, it encrypts your data and traffic. So your ISP, advertisers, and spies cannot see what you do online. Most VPNs do not log your metadata.
The VPN servers I use are provided by Windscribe. It’s log-less, and provides unlimited bandwidth for unlimited devices, and also blocks ads, trackers, and web beacons. There are many other VPN providers. You can do your research before subscribing to one.
Use paid email providers instead of free Gmail
Free email service providers like Gmail scans your emails and documents you send via them. As a matter of fact, you all the emails you’ve deleted from your Gmail account are not deleted from their server. They are rather used for further analysis to figure out when and why you deleted them.
Unlikely, I own a website domain that allows me to create professional emails. I use paid services and my emails are hosted on Rackspace. This may not be the case for you, and you may not be able to use their service without any domain. So I suggest you an alternative paid service.
Outlook Premium may work for you. The premium version doesn’t serve you ads and provides an encryption feature in their web-based email client. I know this because I’m a Microsoft 365 subscriber, and Outlook Premium is included in their subscription package. If you use Microsoft Office Applications this can be very cost-effective, and you will not have to spend additional money on email services.
Use end-to-end encryption for communication
This is so interesting to me. When my friends and relative want to send me a message they ask, “Are you on Whats App?” I say, “No! But there is a text messaging app built-into every cell phone. You can send me a text message.” People have forgotten that there is a default text messaging app on almost every cell phone.
By the way, voice calls and messages through telecommunication service providers are the least secure. You must use the apps that provide end-to-end encryption for your messaging and voice communication if you’re concerned about your privacy.
Whats App does provide end-to-end encryption, an open-source protocol developed by Signal. That means your communication through Whats App is secure and reliable. But the problem with Whats App is it scrapes other data, your habits, the person you contact most, when, and how often, to develop a predictive model that we all discussed previously. Then the same thing happens addiction, profiling, and manipulation.
Skype is a good alternative that uses the same encryption protocol by Signal. It’s a robust cross-platform software. Or if you want something similar to Whats App then you can use the Signal Private Messenger. It is offered by the non-profit company Signal, which developed the end-to-end encryption protocol that Whats App and Skype use for their applications.
I quit social media and permanently deleted my profiles almost a year ago. I portrayed it as a personal choice. I was tired of convincing people and pretended to be backward, stupid, and a man lacking willpower. As they say, “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they are being fooled.” But it was outrageous when I saw teachers are forcing their students to install these apps, specifically Whats App, or encouraging them to use these platforms for educational purposes. Which is insane!
Some students are aware of these things and care about their privacy. Those students are helpless; because these authorities control their academic life and determine what they get on their mark sheets. So they must be pleased. I don’t know about other nations but that’s how it works in India. Here students rarely challenge their teachers with questions. Those who do, have a hard time in their academic life.
On the other hand, many teachers and professors said to me they can’t quit because they feel the same pressure from their seniors and are obliged to stay connected to some specific Whats App and Facebook Groups created by government officials. It’s a shame that governments and such establishments can’t afford to develop a dedicated website to nurture its community.
All these things together broke my silence. So I put aside all the other tasks related to my business and invested my time to write this article. Of course, I’m not forcing anybody to delete social media; it’s an individual choice. But be sure, it’s the only way. If you’re like me concerned about our online privacy, then take a step further and inform your friends and relatives about it. So they can reconsider their relationships with these tools and platforms.
Please read it carefully 🙏
A necessary article that everyone should know about
Sehnaz, thank you for taking the time to go through this long article! I appreciate it.
I was worrying at the time of writing if people still have enough patience to read the article, specifically young people. People in our generation do not have the patience to watch a 3-hour long movie or a one-day cricket match. You can see the damage it has already caused.
Yes, everyone should indeed know it. Yet there is so little awareness. I hope you will spread the words with the people you care about most.
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